However, not all polysemic words should be treated in the same manner. What applies to a word like “rather” might not apply to a word like “even.”
It truly depends on the nature of each word and how its different meanings are used.
To drive this point home, let’s take a closer look at “even.”
Does “even” need a comma before it?
For most use cases, you won’t need a comma with “even.” Yet, there are one or two scenarios where a comma might be necessary, such as when “even” behaves like an adverb that comes at the end of a sentence. Additionally, if “even” is part of a construction, an example of which is the subordinating conjunction “even though,” then things become even more complicated.
Let’s take a deeper dive to understand this better.
What does “even” even mean?
If you’re confused by the above question, don’t be. It’s a simple play on words, and you will understand it soon enough.
Now, before anything, let’s treat “even” like any other polysemic word and learn its different meanings.
According to Dictionary.com, “even” can form various parts of speech.
”Even” as an adjective
For starters, the word “even” can be used to modify another noun. In this case, “even”’s definition becomes being level, flat, or smooth.
Also, as an adjective, it can be used to compare two or more things together, letting us know that they are of the same level, are parallel in some way, or exist within the same plane.
Moreover, “even” can be used to mean “balanced.”
The following examples should clear this all up.
I prefer even numbers to odd numbers.
Here, “even” is an adjective that modifies the noun “numbers” and lets us know something about them.
It tells us that these numbers can be split into two equal halves, each one of which is the same level as the other.
This road is even.
“Even” here tells us that the road is smooth or flat.
You need to make sure that your building is even with the rest of the surrounding buildings.
In the above sentence, “even” modifies “your building.” And, the sentence is saying that your building should be the same level or height as the rest of the surrounding buildings.
The room was set at an even temperature.
In this last sentence, “even” means balanced, and the entire sentence is saying that the temperature of the room was balanced or moderate.
”Even” as a verb
On the other hand, “even” can function as a verb. It means to settle or bring to balance. It can also mean to make something smooth or level.
More often than not, you will find it used with the particle “out”, producing “even out,” which means to balance out or to make something smooth.
Alternatively, if you combine “even” with the particle “up,” you get “even up,” which means to make something equal, a term that is particularly used when it comes to claims and debts.
I will even the score before I leave.
The implication here is that you are losing a game of some sort and that you are determined to equalize the score before you leave the game.
The positives and negatives of the situation even out.
Simply put, another way to state the above sentence would be that the positives and negatives balance out.
This competition is very one-sided. It should be evened up a bit.
When we say the competition should be evened up, we are saying that it should be made more equal.
“Even” as an adverb
By far, the most common usage of the word “even” is as an adverb, in which case it can be used in several different ways.
“Even” can modify verbs
The first usage we will look at is the one closest to the other meanings we’ve mentioned so far. When used as an adverb, “even” can mean “evenly” or “in a straight manner.”
The path ran even.
In this sentence, we aren’t surprised that there was a path. We are merely stating that the path was smooth and flat rather than jagged and crooked.
”Even” can be used to show surprise
This is probably the usage you were expecting. “Even” can be used to convey surprise, and you can add words like “now” or “then” to give it a temporal factor.
When using it for surprise, you can put “even” before a verb or after an auxiliary verb or modal verb. You can also place it before a noun or before a prepositional phrase. It all depends on what you are trying to stress.
Even the child knew the answer was incorrect.
Some will argue that Cristiano Ronaldo was never the greatest football player in history, even in his prime.
Even now, he has a hard time believing what happened.
She used to be a runway model, and even then, she wasn’t satisfied with the quality of her life.
”Even” can be used along with comparatives to show that while something may be X (big, beautiful, smart, etc…), something else is even more so
“Even” can play a comparative role where it helps illustrate the relationship between two things.
However, when you use “even,” what you are saying is that both these things share the same quality, but one of them exhibits it more than the other.
He might think he has it bad, but his brother even has it worse.
She is even taller than the captain of the volleyball team.
”Even” can be used for emphasis
This is different than using it to show surprise. Here, “even” is used to reiterate something already said but to also add emphasis to it.
Her answer was smart, even genius.
Doing so was cruel- callous, even.
”Even” as part of a construction
The word “even” can be tethered to other words, creating unique grammatical units.
The most famous example of this is the subordinating conjunction “even though.” Other examples of this are “even when,” “even if,” and “even so.”
For the most part, these constructions behave in the same fashion as the word that comes after “even.”
Let’s take a deeper look to understand this.
“Even though” is a subordinating conjunction that ties a subordinate clause to an ordinate one and is used to highlight the contrast between the two clauses. It can come before or after the main clause.
Even though the book was on the shelf, he wasn’t able to find it.
She failed the test even though she spent the entire night studying.
This construction comes in handy when an event happens regularly, and you want to talk about what happens during said event.
Even when he goes on vacation, he can’t stop thinking about work.
She always sees the good in someone even when they have treated her poorly.
This construction is used to talk about fringe situations and things that form either the best case or worst-case scenario.
Even if he finishes the story, his editor won’t let him publish it.
He can’t win the election even if he gets backed by the current president.
“Even so” highlights the contrast between two different ideas in the same manner that “but” or “however” does. Yet, “even so” is more appropriate when one of the ideas is surprising or unexpected.
I can’t stand the heat. Even so, I prefer summer to winter.
He is allergic to dogs. Even so, he loves those four-legged creatures.
So, when exactly does “even” need a comma?
With polysemic words, the difficulty is always discerning the different meanings. Once you’ve done that, it’s all downhill from there.
So, having finished the hard part, we can now see when “even” does and doesn’t take a comma.
However, rather than going over every type individually, it would be easier to do things in bulk.
This is because, as mentioned earlier, “even” doesn’t take a comma in most cases, and the cases where any punctuation might be necessary are few.
Cases where no comma is needed
When “even” comes on its own rather than being in a construction, it mostly doesn’t require a comma.
It definitely doesn’t need a comma when it is an adjective or a verb.
And, when it is an adverb, a comma is unnecessary in the majority of cases, including when used to modify verbs or used as a comparative tool.
We’ve already seen examples of these cases, so we should be familiar with how these types show up in a sentence.
Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean that “even” never takes a comma before it in the above cases.
It might not need one, but the sentence structure might force one on it all the same. Here are a few examples to demonstrate this.
The long, even road led to Rome.
Here, “even” is an adjective that modifies the noun “road.” The reason there is a comma before it is because it is part of a pair of adjectives http://englishplus.com/grammar/00000072.htm.
He, surprising as it may be, even has more money than his father.
In the above sentence, “even” is an adverb that plays a comparative role. The comma is due to the placement of the interjecting phrase “surprising as it may be.”
Cases where a comma is needed
Through a process of elimination, the remaining cases are the ones that need punctuation.
Let’s start when “even” is not part of a construction.
The single “even”
The two remaining cases we didn’t mention above are when “even” is an adverb that displays surprise and when it is an adverb that adds emphasis.
For starters, when “even” is used for surprise, it really depends on where it is within the sentence as well as its role within said sentence.
So, when it comes at the beginning of a sentence, there is no need for a comma so long as it doesn’t start a subordinate clause.
In the event that it does start a subordinate clause, then a comma will have to follow.
And, if it precedes a verb, it usually doesn’t require a comma before it unless the sentence structure necessitates it.
The only clear cut case where a comma is necessary is when it is used in an interrupting phrase, which happens when it comes before a prepositional phrase for example.
Even the rookie cop could tell that the suspect was innocent.
They gave up on even trying.
She gave a remarkable presentation, even impressing her professor.
In the above sentence, a comma precedes “even” because it is part of a participial phrase, and participial phrases take commas when they come at the end of a sentence.
He would have never made it, even with all his might.
Here, using a comma isn’t mandatory, and it really depends on the meaning you are trying to convey.
If you feel that the prepositional phrase “even with all his might” is necessary to your sentence, then you shouldn’t use a comma.
Alternatively, if you feel that this prepositional phrase can be removed, then you should keep the comma.
Even with all might, he would have never made it.
In the above sentence, regardless of whether “even with all his might” is necessary or not, you need to follow this phrase with a comma.
On the other hand, when it comes to “even” that adds emphasis, a comma is almost always needed.
The reasoning here is that the emphasis comes in the form of an interrupting phrase that can be removed from the main sentence.
He was willing to give his entire fortune, even his life, for the cause.
He is great, maybe even the best, at what he does.
”Even” in a compound structure
Finally, we come to “even” when it is part of a larger grammatical unit.
In this case, the entire unit behaves in the same way as the latter word would.
Ergo, “even though” behaves like “though.”
They are both subordinating conjunctions, and when they come at the beginning of a sentence, their subordinate clause is followed by a comma.
Alternatively, when they come at the end of a sentence, they are not preceded by a comma.
And, when they are put in the middle of a sentence, the subordinate clause is preceded and succeeded by a clause.
Even though he thought he answered incorrectly, he ended up acing the exam.
He was certain, even though everybody else kept warning him, that his partner wouldn’t swindle him.
She handed in the proposal even though she knew that the deadline had passed.
The same applies for “even when” and “even if.” They act similarly to “when” and “if” respectively.
However, we do have to mention a caveat concerning “when.”
You see, “when” can form different parts of speech , but “even when” only matches the conjunction usage, adopting the punctuation used in this case.
He was happy to get the job even when he realized that it would harm his social life.
Even when he thought he’d seen it all, he wasn’t prepared for what was to come.
As for “if,” its most popular usage is as a subordinating conjunction. “Even if” mimics this usage.
Even if I’m wrong, the company will make it through.
You can’t finish this project even if you get your friends to help you.
Finally, we arrive at “even so.” “Even so” behaves like an adverb similar to “however” and “nevertheless.”
Ergo, it is punctuated in a similar fashion. It is always followed by a comma, but it is never preceded by one.
Instead, a period or a semicolon can come before it.
She never finished studying for her exams. Even so, she managed to ace them.
They forgot to set their alarm clocks; even so, they woke up a couple of hours before their flight.
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.