Is putting a comma before “hence” always necessary? If so, how do we know whether the sentence structure requires it or not?
And, is the comma decision even dependent on the structure of the sentence? Or can the writer also freely decide it?
If these questions have been sitting at the back of your head, you’ve certainly reached the right page to seek some answers.
Should we always place a comma before “hence”?
A comma before “hence” is only necessary when it introduces an idea that is treated as a parenthesis, particularly when it interrupts the sentence midway or towards the end. A parenthetical expression is a grammatically-insignificant word, phrase, or fragment inserted for emphatic and rhetorical reasons that need to be set off with commas. That said, a comma before “hence” is also essential when it is used after a mid-sentence parenthetical interruption.
Hence: Meaning, function, and usage
“Hence” is generally used as a conjunctive adverb that links a premise to a conclusion.
Since it functions this way, it means that it expresses causative arguments cohesively and concisely.
As a connective device, “hence” plays a major role in making arguments succinct, and thus, easier to digest.
In another sense, which is relatively less likely used than the previous meaning, “hence” may also mean “from now” or “later.”
With regards to language register, “hence” is a rather formal and advanced word to use which has a more casual equivalent, “so.”
This means that overusing it colloquially or out of context may invite criticisms from a reader or a listener.
Simply put, you may want to avoid using “hence” when writing an essay about your most unforgettable spring break.
Whereas, it would be more applicable in a critique paper on the sociocultural implications of xenophobia.
In spoken English, it is also more appropriate to use this connective adverb in a business presentation rather than in a water cooler talk.
As regards punctuation, placing a comma before “hence” is guided by a couple of easy-to-remember circumstances which are elaborated in ample detail in the next section.
The comma before “hence” in utmost detail
Now that we know how to appropriately use “hence” in both written and spoken contexts, it is also vital that we understand its pre-comma placement.
Yes, it may seem puzzling at times how punctuation marks like commas behave in various sentence formats.
But they do exist for a very simple purpose: to disambiguate written information, similar to how white spaces work.
Part of their job is also to induce rhythm or prosody, not to mention emphasis, which is crucial in giving life to monotonous texts.
To understand the pre-comma instances better, all you need to do is remember the word “parenthesis” and understand how it works.
Let’s begin with making sense of the term “parenthesis” which is a stylistic device that assists the persuasion process.
When we speak naturally, we tend to insert some thoughts that we think would help convey what we want to say more clearly and emphatically.
These ideas do not necessarily follow the syntactical flow of our sentences and are thereby removable.
When we convert spoken language into the written form, we get an output known as “prose,” a way of replicating the natural flow of verbal speech in writing.
To represent these additional thoughts, all parenthetical elements are offset with commas no matter where they appear within the sentence.
The commas’ job is to mark the grammatical-dispensability of the parenthesis, as well as to signal a pause to make it more emphatic.
For this reason, a comma is necessary before “hence” when it is used as a parenthetical element in sentences.
It may be used either as a single word or an introductory element in a parenthetical insertion.
When “hence” introduces a mid-sentence parenthesis
Now, let’s take a look at an example sentence that uses “hence” as a parenthetical word interrupter in the middle of a sentence.
“Hence” is treated as a parenthetical word in the example that roughly means “which is why.”
Using “hence” instead of the latter expression makes the transition smooth and concise, thereby saving some white spaces in the process.
Here’s another example of using “hence” as an introductory element in a mid-sentence interruption in a more complex structure.
In the sentence above, the causative idea is integrated among the three clauses, which is really common in making ideas shorter in formal writing.
When “hence” introduces an end-sentence parenthesis
A parenthesis may also be added towards the end of a sentence, which is almost always the case with “hence.”
Similarly, a comma is often necessary when “hence” introduces a parenthesis this way, particularly in complex rather than simple sentences.
The sentence above is introduced by an independent clause and followed by a parenthetical dependent clause afterward.
In general, we may notice that dependent clauses used after the main clause should not be separated with a comma.
However, “hence” is an adverb and not a conjunction so it cannot link two clauses together. Hence, the comma does the job instead.
When “hence” comes after a parenthesis
Now that we know how commas help in compartmentalizing parenthetical ideas, it should be easy to deduce that a comma must also come before “hence” when it subsequently follows a parenthesis.
The argument above is particularly complex and contains several aspects to it, and thus, impossible to express in a simplistic sentence structure.
The comma before “hence,” which meanwhile serves as the closing parenthetical comma, is crucial in marking the resultive argument in the example.
Don’t place a comma before hence, when…
I hope that the guidelines on the comma before “hence” is already clearer at this point.
If not, then please continue reading this section to understand the other things to be considered on your comma decision.
When “hence” causes a weak interruption
Although the previous section focused more on the importance of comma in constructing sentences with parenthetical insertions, commas may not be that essential in other cases.
As you may have guessed the logic behind this, not placing a comma in instances like this creates a more straightforward sentence flow.
Although a comma may also be added before “hence” above, doing so may disrupt the rhythm of a relatively short sentence.
Therefore, it would be better to omit the pre-comma in short sentence structures because of the utterly weak interruptive power of the conclusion part.
When “hence” is used to mean “from now”
Another meaning of “hence” is “from now” or “later,” which is also used in non-colloquial registers.
In this sense, “hence” is used as a part of the time expression rather than a connective device, and therefore, a comma before it constitutes ungrammaticality.
Frequently Asked Questions on Comma Before Hence
How can we use “hence” in a sentence?
“Hence” can be used to introduce a causative argument following a premise such as in this sentence: “The company is keen on supporting human capital, hence the success in the industry.” In this sentence, “hence” means the longer phrase “for this reason,” and thus, making the argument more concise.
Can we use “hence” after a semicolon?
Yes, and it usually requires an after-comma especially when it introduces a lengthy clause. “Palliative care is a crucial medical service for individuals suffering from distressing, incurable diseases; hence, the need for constant governmental support.”
What is the difference between “hence” and “therefore?”
“Hence” and “therefore” can be used as conjunctive adverbs in linking causative arguments. Although this is almost always how they function in sentences, the former can also be used as an adverb that denotes the time-related meaning “from now” such as in “two years hence.” However, this function does not apply to “therefore” at all.
No matter how prolific a writer becomes, comma-decisions can still be frustrating and taxing at times.
Nevertheless, we should just always bear in mind that language is arbitrary and that the writer will always be the pilot of his own ship.
Ergo, readability and intelligibility must be the primary considerations in writing texts, rather than pedantic rules.
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.