Comma Style Guide

Comma Style Guide

How to use commas in fiction and narrative non-fiction works

This guide is a work in progress and not an exhaustive resource (yet).

This guide provides explanations and examples of how to use commas with conjunctions in works of fiction or narrative non-fiction. It follows the premise that commas have a grammatical purpose: to aid clarity. It does not subscribe to the myth that commas are for breath pauses but acknowledges that some uses are a style choice.



Comma before conjunction followed by introductory adverbial clause fronting an independent clause

  •  They beat him, and though it hurt, he refused to cry.

Comma after conjunction when used parenthetically with a dependent (subordinate) clause

  • She bent and, praising the child, pinned a ribbon on her jumper.

Complex list

  • I asked if I could pay for the groceries later, and if she could please reserve a delivery time for me.


Time (simultaneous action – while/when)

  • The kitten purred as I stroked her furry head.
  • As I stroked her furry head, the kitten purred.

Result and cause (because/since)

  • I’m not having dinner, as I’ve already eaten.
  • As I’ve already eaten, I’m not having dinner.

Comparison or the way something is done (just like)

  • Sarah arrived on time, as instructed.
  • As instructed, Sarah arrived on time.

*Exception: use a comma for clarity where confusion may arise:

  • I left the room as Cleo was playing the bagpipes. (time)

  • I left the room, as Cleo was playing the bagpipes. (result/cause)

As long as / so long as

Provided that

  • You can go as long as you finish your homework.
  • As long as you finish your homework, you can go.

Provided that (informal use)

  • You can go so long as you finish your homework.
  • So long as you finish your homework, you can go.

Comparison or the way something is done (just like)

  • Sarah posted the letter, as she’d been instructed.
  • As we’d expected, Sarah was late again.


Conjunction linking subordinate clause (reason or cause)

  • I drank it all because it tasted so good.
  • Because of the bushfires, we couldn’t go camping.
  • Some people stay in bed just because they can.

Tip: sometimes a comma is needed for clarity

When a negative statement introduces this conjunction

  • Incorrect: He didn’t drink it because it was cold – may mean the cold was irrelevant and there was another reason he drank it.
  • Correct: He didn’t drink it, because it was cold – clearly means the cold was the reason he didn’t drink it.

When the sentence becomes ambiguous:

  • Incorrect: I know Jenny makes the best risotto because her partner told me – does the partner’s opinion have influence on Jenny’s risotto-making skills? Or has Jenny’s partner simply expressed an opinion?
  • Correct: I know Jenny makes the best risotto, because her partner told me.


Comma before conjunction when followed by introductory adverbial phrase/clause fronting an independent clause

  • He lost the race, but on the flip side, he gained a new friend.

No comma when followed by a dependent (subordinate) clause

  • The sapling looked as if it would survive the storm but gave out and snapped at the base.

Comma after conjunction when used parenthetically with a dependent (subordinate) clause

  • The sapling looked as if it would survive the storm but, after two hours of thrashing winds, gave out and snapped at the base.

Further reading: Daily Writing Tips 


Only takes a comma when used with an introductory phrase.

Adverb relating to time

  • I’m only doing this once.
  • It happens once a month.


  • Please stop doing that at once.
  • I wish you would come just this once.
  • For once in your life, own up to some responsibility.


  • I will respond once I have thought about your offer.
  • Once I’ve done the dishes, I’m heading to bed.


Conjunction (reason)

Tip: only use a comma if the preceding clause is negated by the following clause.

  • I wouldn’t be sitting the exam, since it was being held two states away.
  • I think I’ll have a dessert since you’re going to.
  • Since you don’t seem to care, I’m leaving tonight.

Preposition (time)

  • I haven’t eaten a toffee apple since I was a kid.
  • He’s limped ever since the accident.


  • She left in the night, and I haven’t seen her since.
  • I was bitten by a monkey and have hated them ever since.
  • I started chef school five years ago, and I’ve learnt a lot since then.

Further examples: Cambridge dictionary 


Conjunction (therefore)

  • They didn’t have the flavour I wanted, so I didn’t buy any.
  • It was raining all day, so we stayed indoors.

Conjunction (reason)

  • I used a stool so [that] I could reach the shelf.
  • He married her so that he could stay in the country.

Conjunction (as introduction to sentence – with or without pause)

  • So, what do we do now?
  • So I couldn’t care less.
  • So, when we get there, let me do the talking.

Such as / including

Commas are only used where the phrase is non-restrictive (doesn’t change the meaning of the noun or noun phrase it is modifying).


  • I only like flavoured milk, such as chocolate or strawberry.
  • She taught me many things I didn’t know, such as the names for various shades of blue.
  • I looked at every building, including the local town hall, but couldn’t find the perfect venue.


  • Planes such as passenger jets are only piloted by highly trained crew members.
  • Books including offensive terms should content contain warnings.


Adverb (time)

  • Then, the population was only around fifty.
  • Just then, I dropped my ice cream.

Adverb (next)

  • Then he stood and left.
  • She lifted baby from the floor, placed it on her hip, then continued to stir the soup.
  • If not, then when?

Adverb (indicating one thing affecting another)

  • If not now, then when?
  • If I arrive late, then go without me.

Adverb (with interjection)

  • Well then, I ain’t gonna do it.

Noun (time)

  • I had no reason to wait until then.
  • Since then, she’s never spoken to me.


  • Before she died, the queen received the then prime minister.

Further examples:


Subordinate conjunction introducing a nonessential clause

  • He climbed into the lower bunk, where he slept for the rest of the night.
  • They slithered along the floor beneath the smoke, where the air was the clearest.

Adverb (at what place or in what situation)

  • I’m wondering where I left my glasses.
  • I left her where the tall poppies grow.
  • I love the part where they capture the baddie.
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