No matter how seasoned we are, the problem with punctuation use always creeps into our daily writing activities.
One of the most pressing issues on the internet today is whether a comma should come before the word “both” – a word with multiple parts of speech.
Hang in there, and worry no more because we got your back.
Let’s get right into it.
When do we need to use a comma before “both”?
A comma is necessary before “both” when it appears after an introductory expression and a parenthetical expression. We also need a comma when “both” introduces a parenthetical phrase or clause midsentence. A comma is also needed when “both” appears at the end of the sentence as a direct address.
The necessary comma before “both”
The word “both” is a pronoun, determiner, or adverb that is used to refer to two people, things, or actions that have been previously mentioned or implied.
It can be used to indicate that two of the items, events, or actions are included or applied. Thus, logically speaking, “both” could simply mean “the two.”
In grammar, “both” is typically used in a sentence to indicate that there are two things or people being referred to.
A comma is needed before both in certain circumstances, as explained in the following subsections:
When “both” comes after an introductory expression
Introductory expressions are short ideas that align the reader with the sentence’s main topic. They are devices that make transitions seamless.
Many introductory expressions come in the form of “absolute constructions” in the realm of syntax, which is a more specific field under grammar.
In case you’re unfamiliar, the word “syntax” is the study of word order and sentence structure. It focuses on the systematic construction of sentences that can be built within a language.
A lot of linguistic concepts can be hard to understand. This might be caused by the fact that the technical differences between grammar and syntax are unknown to many people.
When we talk about introductory expressions that are absolute constructions, these are ideas that deviate from well-established grammatical rules.
While these constructions are considered grammatically incomplete, we can still fully make sense of them with ease.
Absolute constructions used as introductory expressions need to be separated with a comma from the rest of the sentence.
Therefore, a comma should come before “both” when it is used as the first word immediately after the introductory expression.
Enjoying the rain, both Bailey and Ashley wag their tails as they chase each other.
When “both” comes after a dependent clause
A comma should also come before “both” when it appears after an independent clause in a complex sentence structure.
A complex sentence is made up of at least one independent and one dependent clause linked by a subordinating conjunction somewhere in the sentence.
To know that a comma is necessary, determining whether the clause that precedes “both” is independent or dependent is the key.
An independent clause is something that can be treated as a complete sentence because it can stand alone and does not depend on another idea to be understood.
Meanwhile, an independent clause is something that is usually headed by a subordinating conjunction, such as “because,” “before,” “even though,” and “unless.”
When the dependent clause is used at the beginning of the sentence, and “both” comes right after, then a comma should be used.
Unless I get home, both of you can’t go out.
Dependent clauses are also called “subordinate” clauses. If you want to go beyond the basics, we’ve also covered how to use a comma before a subordinate clause in a previous post.
Feel free to find out how that works in detail sometime.
When “both” comes in the middle of a sentence
When “both” comes in the middle of a sentence to introduce a parenthetical expression, you should use commas to separate it from the clauses that surround it.
Parentheticals are special words, phrases, and clauses that are used to enrich the meaning of sentences rather than to complete their structure.
In other words, parentheticals add flavor to sentences and are, therefore, grammatically non-restrictive or non-essential.
A parenthetical expression that comes midsentence is enclosed with two commas to make the interruption clear and emphatic.
Thus, when the midsentence parenthetical starts with the word “both,” a comma should be used right before it.
The company is facing financial difficulties, both due to the pandemic and internal mismanagement, this year.
When “both” comes at the end of a sentence
“Both” can be preceded with a comma at the end of a sentence in a few different cases. When this happens, it usually acts as a pronoun.
A comma should be used before “both” when it replaces direct addressees’ names. Using a comma before or after a name or direct address is important in making the reference clear.This rule is best applied in formal writing scenarios, as well as in educational books that aim to teach effective writing strategies.
“Both” would also need a pre-comma when a parenthetical expression comes right before it. The closing comma for that parenthetical serves as “both’s” pre-comma.
In casual writing, the use of non-word filler elements is common. These fillers also need to be separated with commas if we want to make our written work more accurate.
Hence, a comma before “both” used at the end of a sentence would also be necessary when a filler expression comes before it.
B: It’s really hard to decide right now. Um, both.
4. Not using a comma before “both”
If there are cases where a comma is necessary before “both,” other circumstances also call for leaving it out.
There’s no need to use a comma before “both” in certain situations, as listed in the following subsections:
When “both” is used as a regular pronoun
When “both” is used as a regular pronoun, meaning to refer to two people or things previously mentioned or implied, you generally don’t need a comma before it.
When “both” is used as a pronoun, it is used to replace two items that are previously mentioned, either in the same sentence or a preceding one.
In a case like this, no comma should be used at all because “both” acts as a grammatically essential element that completes the meaning of the sentence.
My shirt and pants are cheap. Both were on sale last week.
When “both” is used as a regular determiner
When “both” is used as a regular determiner, a device that comes together with nouns for referential purposes, no comma is needed before it.
Similarly, this usage also makes “both” a grammatically essential part of the sentence where it appears, just like the pronoun.
Both options are viable for the project.
In the examples above, “both” is used as a determining word before nouns to make the referencing clear based on the context of the message.
When “both” is used as a regular adverb
When “both” is used as a regular adverb, meaning to modify adjectives, verbs, and other adverbs, a comma is neither necessary.
Likewise, the regular adverb “both” should steer clear of the comma use because it is an essential part of the sentence.
Both young and old people need to understand the pros and cons of technology.
Frequently Asked Questions on “Comma Before ‘Both’”
Is “both” the same as “as well as”?
“Both” does not necessarily imply the same meaning nor is used the same way as “as well as.” “Both” suggests the meaning “the two people or items mentioned,” while “as well as” works like “too” or “also.”
Where does the comma go in “you and me both”?
“You and me both” is something popular in casual speaking and writing scenarios. In formal language, it is equivalent to “both you and me.” No comma is needed in this phrase since “both” acts as a regular determiner in this phrase alone.
Can you use “both” at the end of the sentence?
It is possible to use “both” at the end of the sentence, such as a direct address in “Thank you, both.” It could also be used after a filler expression as in “Well, both” and “Um, both.” It could also be used as a regular pronoun as in “He chose both.”
In general, the use of a comma before “both” depends on the context and the role “both” plays in the sentence. It is linking elements or actions that are already known.
However, it’s also important to note that these are general guidelines and punctuation rules can vary depending on the context, style, or the specific writing you are doing.
For more interesting discussions concerning language and punctuation, don’t hesitate to visit us again next time!
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.