To use or not to use a comma, that is the question.
Sometimes, the grammatical rules dictate that you have to use a comma in a certain situation, and without a comma, your writing would be incomprehensible.
However, there are other situations where you don’t need a comma, even when you think that one should be obligatory.
For instance, one of the most confusing aspects for new English learners is the fact that you shouldn’t put a comma before a subordinate conjunction.
And, there are the fringe scenarios, the cases where it could go either way.
These are the situations where putting a comma is completely optional and up to the writer, making it a matter of style rather than a matter of grammar.
Fortunately, today’s word, “sometimes,” is a clear cut case, one that doesn’t contain plenty of ambiguity. So, without further ado, let’s see when you need to use a comma with “sometimes.”
- 1 Do you even need a comma with “sometimes”?
- 2 The different ways you can use “sometimes”
- 3 So, when exactly does “sometimes” need a comma?
- 4 The difference between “sometimes,” “sometime,” and “some time”
Do you even need a comma with “sometimes”?
Using a comma is required when “sometimes” comes at the beginning of a sentence. Other than that, you probably won’t need a comma unless the sentence structure dictates so.
Allow me to explain further.
The different ways you can use “sometimes”
“Sometimes” is an adverb that means “occasionally.” It can also be interpreted as “every now and then.”
I go swimming sometimes.
“Sometimes” in the above sentence modifies the verb “swimming,” letting us know the frequency with which I go swimming. It answers the when question.
Sometimes, I go swimming.
Here, “sometimes” comes at the beginning of a sentence, yet it remains pretty much the same and gives us the same exact information as in the example before it. It still modifies the verb “swimming.”
So, when exactly does “sometimes” need a comma?
When “sometimes” is placed in the middle of a sentence, you don’t need a comma.
The weather is sometimes nice around here.
And, if you do end up needing a comma before or after it, it will be because the sentence structure necessitates it, and it will have nothing to do with the word “sometimes” itself.
The weather is nice sometimes, but it rains too often.
In the above example, the comma precedes the coordinating conjunction “but.”
My professor, Dr. Meinhardt, sometimes loses his train of thought.
The commas in this example are used to surround the appositive “Dr. Meinhardt” and, again, have nothing to do with “sometimes.”
All this said, things become a little different when “sometimes” comes at the beginning of a sentence.
You see, when you start a sentence with “sometimes,” you are using an introductory adverb.
And, we always follow an introductory adverb with a comma, regardless of whether they are modifying a specific verb or they are modifying the entire sentence.
Sometimes, I doubt whether I should have become an engineer.
Sometimes, I think someone is watching me.
This applies to any introductory adverb, not just “sometimes.”
Apparently, the book was so popular that his publisher asked for a sequel.
Sadly, he failed his test.
In this last example, “sadly” actually modifies the entire sentence, letting us know the mood of the entire statement.
The difference between “sometimes,” “sometime,” and “some time”
Interestingly, “sometimes,” “sometime,” and “some time” do not only have different meanings, but they also form different parts of speech and can’t be used interchangeably.
We’ve already talked about “sometimes,” so let’s look at “sometime” then move on to “some time.”
”Sometime” the adverb
When used as an adverb, “sometime” refers to a moment in time that is unspecified.
It has to be stressed that it doesn’t talk about a length or span of time. Instead, it talks about a particular moment. The following examples will drive the point home.
You should come by sometime.
In the above example, the author is inviting someone to come to their place at some point in the future. You should notice that this point in the future is left unspecified.
In other words, it is an open invitation of sorts, and it isn’t discussing frequency or span of time. This is why the synonyms of “sometime” are “someday” and “at some point in time.”
You should come by someday.
The above sentence delivers the same exact meaning as the example preceding it.
Let’s compare this to “sometimes.”
She comes by sometimes.
Here, the meaning is that someone frequents your house occasionally.
What’s curious to note is that “sometime” the adverb doesn’t come at the beginning of a sentence as an introductory adverb.
Sometime, you should come by.
Even though the above sentence is grammatically correct, it reads weird and would give any reader pause. Ergo, you shouldn’t use it.
Do you need a comma with “sometime” the adverb?
Seeing as this adverb only comes in the middle of the sentence, you treat like any other adverb and don’t put a comma before or after it unless the sentence structure necessitates it.
”Sometime” the adjective
When “sometime” becomes an adjective, it changes its meaning a bit and means “former.”
Susan, the sometime ballerina, gives classes at the Y.
Here, “the sometime ballerina” can be rewritten as “the former ballerina,” and the meaning would not change.
A word of caution is warranted here. There is another meaning for “sometime” the adjective, and it is “occasional.”
Susan, the sometime ballerina, gives classes at the Y.
There is no real consensus surrounding this latter definition, so you are best avoiding it and sticking to the “former” definition.
Does “sometime” the adjective need a comma before or after it?
Like most adjectives, the answer is no. However, seeing as “sometime” the adjective is usually used in appositive phrases, so the whole phrase is surrounded by a comma on either side.
What is the meaning of “some time”?
When spelled out as two words, “some time” actually refers to a span of time. It literally means “a long time.”
I have been following your career for some time.
The above example could be rewritten as follows without altering the meaning.
I have been following your career for a long time.
Does “some time” need a comma?
The only reason you might need a comma is if the sentence structure requires it. For example, if “some time” is part of a prepositional phrase that comes at the beginning of a sentence, you will need a comma after it.
For some time, I have been hearing news that the company was considering going public.
However, at the end of the day, “some time” is made up of a quantifier followed by a noun, so there is no special reason why it should be surrounded by commas.
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.