“By the way” is one of the most common phrases people use in everyday speech. In fact, as common as it is, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ wrote a song about it.
Nevertheless, using and punctuating it in writing is a whole different story.
Meanwhile, comma use remains to be one of the trickiest writing techniques to date, and hence, many are still baffled by how it exactly works.
Having said these two concerns, we’ll be looking into how to specifically decide on whether a comma should come after the phrase “by the way.”
Shall we begin with a quick answer to our query?
When does a comma come after “by the way”?’
A comma should come after “by the way” when it is used at the beginning of a sentence, comes after an interjection, used in a compound sentence, used in the middle of a sentence, used in quoted speech, or used before a name. No comma should come after “by the way” when it is grammatically essential.
Comma usage after “by the way” in detail
Comma decisions rely on structure and style. This means that certain considerations have to be made to come up with appropriate comma usage.
Commas are a great tool that helps in making sentence structure grammatically accurate, hence knowledge of syntax is necessary to a great extent.
To make this happen, referring to at least a beginner’s guide to syntax would be helpful. It makes us understand how words are arranged to make a well-formed sentence.
On top of that, the style also matters. Language style particularly helps in conveying the desired tone and emotion of the writer.
That said, commas are also important tools in making written sentences more literary-sounding and, therefore, “meaning-full.”
With all these basics in mind, let us now tackle the more specific ways how to use a comma after the phrase “by the way.”
Put a comma after “by the way” when…
A mandatory comma is placed after “by the way” when it is used in one of the cases mentioned in this section.
The guidelines below aim to particularly address the difficulty in making use of a necessary comma in ample detail.
Comma rule when “by the way” is used at the beginning of a sentence
Introductory expressions are great for explaining the context in which the main idea is grounded. They are also great transition devices in longer pieces of text.
When “by the way” is used to start a main idea or clause, a necessary comma should be used to make the sentence extra clear.
The comma also provides the reader time to digest and internalize whatever idea the writer wishes to convey through text.
Here’s an example of how that works:
In the example above, it is clear that “by the way” is used to open a conversation topic and at the same time remind the message receiver of something that needs to be done.
On that note, “by the way” not only serves as a conversation opener but also a call-to-action prompt.
With the help of the comma, the intention of the writer becomes more understandable to the message receiver.
Comma rule when “by the way” comes after a word for feelings (interjections)
In informal writing, we often make use of interjections to mimic spoken speech. That said, it is not uncommon to see interjectory expressions in this scenario.
When we speak in natural settings, we make use of interjections to convey how we feel through language.
When we do this in writing, we tend to insert interjections in the beginning, middle, or even at the end of our sentences.
Although we can conveniently drop our punctuation marks in informal chats with friends and family members, it is still advisable to write properly when we can.
That having been said, using commas properly helps in more precisely representing what we really mean to say.
A mandatory comma should be used after “by the way” when it comes after interjectory expressions, such as in the example below:
“By the way” in the example above helps in introducing the complimentary message to the receiver of the message.
In actual speech, this particular use of “by the way” also makes the appreciative words more sincere and emphatic.
Comma rule when “by the way” is used in a compound sentence
Another comma decision that heavily relies on sentence structure-based ruling happens when “by the way” is used before a coordinating conjunction.
More particularly, this occurs when the coordinating conjunction is used to link at least two independent clauses in a compound sentence.
Conjunctions are words and phrases that serve as bolts and screws in language arrangement, and they also follow certain punctuation guidelines.
With coordinating conjunctions, what we have to mainly remember is that a comma is always necessary if and when they are used to hold independent clauses together.
Here’s an example for your reference:
In the example above, “and” is the coordinating conjunction that holds the two main ideas together. These ideas are made up of the two requests in question form.
Actually, “by the way” is not really a necessary part of the sentence and can be conveniently removed if the writer wishes to.
Without it, the sentence can still function well: Can please you call dad now, and can you also ask mom to come?
As you can see, while “by the way” is removable, the comma before “and” isn’t because of its grammatical purpose.
Comma rule when “by the way” is used in the middle of a sentence
As whimsical as it may seem, “by the way” may also be used as an interruptive remark somewhere mid-sentence.
In fact, it can even be used as a parenthetical device within a relative clause that is also grammatically unnecessary.
A comma comes before a relative clause that is not necessarily part of the main idea of the sentence and is only added for emphasis, such as the which-clause in the upcoming example.
By the way, there is something interesting about how the word “which” is used in different language contexts.
A comma before “which” in the UK can either be necessary or not depending on the clause’s grammatical importance; however, in the USA, it is mostly mandatory.
In the example above, “by the way” acts as an interruptive phrase that emphasizes the content introduced by the which-clause.
That said, “by the way” is not only added to interrupt the message but rather to “segue” and highlight the writer’s commentary or opinion used within the relative clause.
Comma rule when “by the way” is used in quoted speech
One of the earliest things we learned in our writing classes at school is that we need to separate quoted from indirect speeches with commas.
On top of the use of quotation marks, we were taught the importance of commas in representing quoted or direct remarks.
The quoted remark may then be preceded or followed by an attribution – the words that help in identifying the source of the quoted message.
When “by the way” is deliberately used as a direct or quoted remark in writing, it is needless to say that a comma should go after it.
The comma after “by the way” in the example above helps in clearly distinguishing the quoted remark from the attribution “Martin said hesitantly.”
This technique is especially useful in writing texts that mimic natural speech in written form, such as what we see in novels.
When “by the way” is used before a name (vocatives)
Last but not least, a comma after “by the way” is also mandatory when it occurs before a vocative expression. This is otherwise known as a direct address in English studies.
A vocative expression is a word we use to address a person when we aim to speak directly to them. This is another example of how much we try to imitate spoken speech in writing.
Separating “by the way” with a comma before a vocative expression signals the reader that the speech is directed towards the person.
In other words, it tells the reader that the vocative expression or person’s name is not necessarily part of a sentence but is rather used for reference purposes.
A vocative expression does not have to be a name of a person all the time. It can also be anything that we use to call or refer to a target addressee, such as form of endearments and name titles.
In the example above, “honey” is the vocative expression that is preceded by “by the way.” The comma helps in informing the reader that the message is directed to him or her.
That’s how the necessary comma after “by the way” works in detail, and hope things have been made clearer now.
Do not put a comma after “by the way” when…
While there are several considerations needed to decide when to place a comma after “by the way,” there is only one thing we need to bear in mind as to when to drop the comma.
This is explained in the next subsection for better understanding.
When “by the way” is grammatically important
There is no need for a comma, or more precisely, the comma placement becomes incorrect if and when “by the way” is a grammatically restricted part of the sentence.
This happens when it is used to suggest the meaning “through the manner of something” in a sentence and not as an introductory or interruptive device.
Restricted sentence elements are necessary for completing the structure of the whole sentence to make it function as one.
Hence, no comma should be interrupting the word order and pattern because it would shift the meaning of the sentence to three-sixty degrees.
Here’s an example to clearly show what the explanation means:
In the example above, it is clear enough that “by the way” should not come with a comma either before or after it.
This is because “by the way” is used as another way to say “by means of” or “by way of” rather than segue or shift the topic, hence the restriction.
Frequently Asked Questions on “Comma After ‘By the Way’”
Can you use “by the way” at the beginning of a sentence?
Especially in casual writing circumstances, it is possible to use “by the way” at the beginning of a sentence to introduce a new topic. However, this phrase had better be avoided in academic writing cases because of its informal connotation.
How do we use the phrase “by the way”?
“By the way” is mainly used to introduce a topic or a sub-topic to any message receiver or addressee. It can be used at the beginning, middle, or end of a sentence as a transition and parenthetical device.
What does “by the way” mean?
In most cases, “by the way” means “incidentally” or “by chance,” such as in “By the way, I saw your ex last week.” At other times, though, “by the way” may also be used to mean “through the manner of” or “in the manner of,” as in “by the way you comb your hair.”
Using commas is admittedly tricky, but we can easily address this confusion by deliberately considering both language structure and style in writing.
If you ever get confused again about how to make use of a comma after “by the way” or know someone who might, please don’t hesitate to refer to this article once more.
Hey fellow Linguaholics! It’s me, Marcel. I am the proud owner of linguaholic.com. Languages have always been my passion and I have studied Linguistics, Computational Linguistics and Sinology at the University of Zurich. It is my utmost pleasure to share with all of you guys what I know about languages and linguistics in general.