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Comma before “if” ― All There is to Know!

Comma before “if” ― All There is to Know!

What punctuation mark causes the worst pain in the neck to anyone doing business correspondence, academic texts, and even just birthday greetings?

You’re right. It has always been the comma, which is perhaps even more notorious than Ted Bundy in the world of writing.

If you’re nodding your head in silence as you read, then this post is tailored just for you. 

Now, please scroll down for some more confusion, I mean information.

 

 

When is a comma necessary before “if?”

A comma before “if” is necessary when it comes after an introductory remark at the beginning of a sentence. We also need a comma when “if” is used after a mid-sentence transition phrase such as “for example” or “that is”. And, we also need to place a comma before “if” when it introduces a parenthetical remark either halfway through or towards the end of a sentence. However, a pre-comma would be incorrect when “if” introduces a subordinate clause after the main clause, as well as when it functions as a noun. But, when the sentence is clunky, and therefore hard to read without the comma, we can optionally place one to improve readability.

 

The necessary comma placement before “if” in detail

Oftentimes, a pre-comma is not placed before “if” when it is used in its most basic function which is to introduce a dependent clause after an independent clause.

This is because, unlike independent clauses, dependent or subordinate clauses cannot stand on their own in sentences.

Hence, they need to be directly attached to the statement because of their importance.

However, in more advanced sentence construction, a comma would be generally necessary when inserting any additional remark that helps in improving the meaning of the statement.

These remarks are what we refer to as parentheses in stylistics, whose purpose is to make ideas more interesting to read.

In the spoken language, you can simply think of those side comments or opinions a person utters while explaining something.

Commas are used to set off parenthetical remarks no matter where they appear in the sentence as they are independently constructed.

The ability to recognize these parenthetical remarks is fundamental in our comma decisions, especially when dealing with higher-level sentence structures.

Comma Rules Cheat Sheet

 

When “if” comes after introductory remarks

Introductory remarks are simply parenthetical elements used in front of the sentence which may either be a word, a phrase, or a fragment.

Using introductory remarks makes statements clearer and easier to digest because they provide contextual background to the upcoming argument.

As I was saying, if you want to win her back, apologize to her.

We may also use connective devices such as conjunctions and adverbial connectors to logically link a series of ideas.

Therefore, a comma is also expected when “if” comes after connectors that are initially placed in the sentence.

You can simply lie to her to quickly solve the problem. But, if you really want some peace of mind, then apologize.

 

When “if” introduces a parenthetical remark midway or at the end of a sentence

As mentioned, parenthetical remarks are sentence elements that are grammatically independent of the main proposition.

Commas aid clarity when representing these auxiliary ideas and, hence, they are necessary before and after the parenthetical remark.

You can do whatever she wants, if that’s not going to hurt your ego, or you may also just regret forever.

You can always check whether the remark is parenthetically functioning by removing it from the sentence.

If the remaining words can be considered grammatically well-formed, then you’re dealing with parenthetical remarks.

That said, a parenthetical idea introduced by “if” may also be conveniently placed at the end of the statement.

You have the option to apologize and set your pride aside, if that’s not going to hurt your ego.

 

When “if” comes after a mid-sentence parenthetical remark

We now know that a comma-encapsulated parenthetical remark can be positioned halfway through the sentence.

Therefore, we can already deduce that the closing parenthetical comma should automatically precede “if” when it introduces another idea afterward.

You have to do it when you’re both calm, although I think it is quite impossible, if you really want to win her trust again.

Comma Before If Pin
 

When “if” comes after transition phrases inserted midsentence

Lastly, we may also find transition phrases in the middle of the sentence, which are, again, useful in logically representing our ideas.

Most of these transition phrases bear a particularizing function such as “for instance,” “for example,” and “that is,” which are also parenthetical elements.

I think you just need to show some sincerity, for example, if you choose to apologize, you can write a letter by hand.

The phrases “for example” and “that is” can also be abbreviated into “e.g.” and “i.e.” respectively, which also needs comma encapsulation.

For more information on punctuating these abbreviations, please click on our other article covering this topic here.

 

The incorrect comma placement before “if”

Now that we know when to appropriately use a comma before “if,” let’s also discuss the circumstances that do not need any.

While the pre-comma is always needed when introducing additional sentence elements, a comma must not be used for essential ones.

This is also the default guideline that we can always refer to when things get confusing.

 

When the “if” introduces a subordinate clause after the main clause

Subordinate clauses are to be treated as essential sentence parts because they cannot stand independently without the main argument.

As subordinating conjunctions are used in creating subordinate clauses, a comma must not come before conjunctions of this kind including “if.”

Thus, the same rule applies to all subordinating clauses that are posteriorly positioned in a sentence.

This is the general case except for those that have dual purposes like “while” “whereas, and “although.”

We would not need the police if apologies always worked.

The rule changes, though, when reversing the structure of the sentence because the comma should be placed at the end of the subordinate clause if takes the frontal position.

     If apologies always worked, we wouldn’t need the police.

Always bear in mind too that parenthetically using if-clauses would always necessitate the pre-comma insertion, even if it introduces a subordinate clause.

 

When “if” is used as a noun

As observed in this post, “if” has been deliberately and repeatedly used as a noun, either as a subject or an object of the sentence.

Most of the time, we can always improve readability by using quotation marks, italicizing, and bolding.

But, in case these hacks are not in your options, then a comma must never be placed before “if” unless it is, again, parenthetically used.

A comma is not necessary before if when it is used as a noun and when it introduces a dependent clause after the main clause.

Also, take note that using “if” as in the example above easily invites misinterpretation.

So, this usage has to be avoided as much as possible.

 

The optional comma placement before “if”

Contrary to what most people think, comma placement rules are not necessarily set in stone.

Yes, there are some rigid conventions like when listing series, but, apparently, we, as language users, are free to tweak the general rules every once in a while.

Therefore, stylistic choices may also compel a writer to use commas despite grammatical conventions.

Put simply, a writer may deliberately defy some of the guidelines when there is a reason to do so.

 

When the “if-clause” is part of a clunky, complicated sentence

Clunky sentences are often formed when we rather want to express a complicated idea in one sitting.

Of course, this is something that we want to avoid at all costs, especially when the audience is composed of non-technical readers or non-natives.

But in case breaking or paraphrasing is not in the list again, the writer may freely place a comma before “if” to also induce emphasis on the following remark.

It’s not always a bad idea to let your guard down and apologize every once in a while when you’re in the wrong, if your ego also allows you to do so.

 

Frequently Asked Questions on Comma Before “If”

 

What’s the difference between “if” and “whether?”

The difference between “if” and “whether” is the strength of the implied force of the statement. While “whether” implies a binary choice, “if,” on the other hand, is more obligatory and imposing. Therefore, although “whether” is generally more polite than “if,” it also evokes weaker force.

 

When should we put a comma before “if any?”

A comma is placed before “if any” if it is parenthetically used to draw emphasis within the sentence as in “What are the grounds of your complaint, if any?” or “Your essay seems to have very few grammatical mistakes, if any, which means you have improved a lot.”

 

What is an example sentence that needs a comma before “if?”

Here’s a parenthetical if-clause at the end of the sentence: “I’m hoping to ask a couple of questions regarding comma usage, if you don’t mind.” Or you may also insert it midway as in “I’m hoping to ask a couple of questions, if you don’t mind, regarding comma usage.”

 

Conclusion

The written language is so powerful that it could influence people’s emotional perceptions and, more so, even alter beliefs.

Since conjunctions like “if” and punctuation marks like commas are highly essential writing devices, then we should use them appropriately as much as we could.