Is There a Comma Before “Except”?

Navigating the rules of comma usage can be complex, particularly with words like “except” that can change the meaning or flow of a sentence. This guide aims to clarify when to use a comma before “except” through straightforward rules and examples.

When to Use a Comma Before “Except”

Rule 1: Connecting Independent Clauses

Connecting Independent Clauses

When “except” is used to connect two independent clauses, a comma is often used before “except” if it introduces a contrasting clause that can stand alone as a sentence.

Correct Examples:

  • “I would have gone to the party, except I had a prior engagement.”
  • “She would have finished the project on time, except she fell ill.”

Incorrect Examples:

  • “I would have gone to the party except, I had a prior engagement.”
  • “She would have finished the project on time except, she fell ill.”

Rule 2: Beginning Sentences

“Except” rarely starts a sentence, but when it does, it’s typically not followed by a comma. Instead, it directly leads into the main clause.

Correct Examples:

  • “Except for Jane, everyone was late.”
  • “Except in winter, the climate here is quite warm.”

Incorrect Examples:

  • “Except, for Jane, everyone was late.”
  • “Except, in winter, the climate here is quite warm.”

Rule 3: Indicating a Degree or Manner

 Indicating a Degree or Manner

When “except” indicates a degree or manner and is part of the sentence’s main clause, a comma is not necessary.

Correct Examples:

  • “There was nothing left except crumbs.”
  • “No one knew except her.”

Incorrect Examples:

  • “There was nothing left, except crumbs.”
  • “No one knew, except her.”

Rule 4: Before an Adjective or Adverb

When “except” precedes an adjective or adverb, it is usually not followed by a comma as it directly modifies the word that follows.

Correct Examples:

  • “Everyone passed except the last student.”
  • “All the doors were locked except one.”

Incorrect Examples:

  • “Everyone passed, except the last student.”
  • “All the doors were locked, except one.”

Rule 5: In the Middle of Sentences

In the Middle of Sentences

When “except” is used in the middle of a sentence to introduce a conditional or contrasting phrase, consider if the phrase is essential to the meaning of the sentence. If nonessential, use commas; if essential, do not.

Correct Examples:

  • “The garden, except for the roses, was destroyed by the storm.”
  • “All the cookies were eaten except for two.”

Incorrect Examples:

  • “The garden except for the roses, was destroyed by the storm.”
  • “All the cookies were eaten, except for two.”

Read More: “No Thank You” or “No, Thank You?” – Understanding the Correct Usage

Rule 6: After a Prepositional Phrase

When “except” follows a prepositional phrase, it usually does not require a comma because it seamlessly continues the thought introduced by the preposition.

Correct Examples:

  • “They sold everything except their car.”
  • “We cleaned every room except the attic.”

Incorrect Examples:

  • “They sold everything, except their car.”
  • “We cleaned every room, except the attic.”

Rule 7: Except When Introducing Examples

When “except” introduces an example or a series of examples, no comma is needed unless the examples are parenthetical or add nonessential information.

Correct Examples:

  • “Every student passed except John.”
  • “She likes all fruits except bananas and grapes.”

Incorrect Examples:

  • “Every student passed, except John.”
  • “She likes all fruits, except bananas and grapes.”

Rule 8: With Conjunctions

If “except” is used in conjunction with coordinating conjunctions (and, but, for, nor, or, yet, so), the comma rules depend on whether “except” is part of the main clause or introduces an independent clause.

Correct Examples:

  • “He was polite to everyone, except when he was under a lot of stress, and then he became quite curt.”
  • “She would have tried every dish, except she was allergic to seafood, so she had to be careful.”

Incorrect Examples:

  • “He was polite to everyone except, when he was under a lot of stress, and then he became quite curt.”
  • “She would have tried every dish except, she was allergic to seafood, so she had to be careful.”

Rule 9: Except Followed by a Clause

When “except” is followed by a full clause, consider whether the clause is essential or additional information. If it’s additional, use a comma.

Correct Examples:

  • “Nobody knew the answer, except John said he might.”
  • “The office was quiet, except when the meetings took place in the conference room.”

Incorrect Examples:

  • “Nobody knew the answer except, John said he might.”
  • “The office was quiet except, when the meetings took place in the conference room.”

Rule 10: Clarity and Emphasis

Sometimes, a comma before “except” is used for clarity, emphasis, or to avoid misreading, even if the strict grammatical rules might not require one.

Correct Examples:

  • “She accepted all the terms, except one.”
  • “The team was ready for any challenge, except, perhaps, this one.”

Incorrect Examples:

  • “She accepted all the terms except, one.”
  • “The team was ready for any challenge except, perhaps, this one.”

Understanding when to use a comma before “except” can refine your writing and make your sentences clearer and more precise. Remember, the goal is always clear communication, so use these rules as a guide to enhance your writing style.

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