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Comma before “no matter”: The Definitive Guide

Comma before “no matter”: The Definitive Guide

Although descriptivists sometimes clash with prescriptivists in terms of punctuation guidelines, punctuation marks generally have a single purpose.

Non-lexical symbols, such as commas, generally function as linguistic devices that facilitate the disambiguation of meaning in the written language.

Linguistic disambiguation is vital in increasing communication efficiency, thereby amplifying the significance of comma-related guidelines in texts.

While cadence and persuasion are prioritized by stylistically-induced commas, syntax concentrates on comma usage according to sentence structure.

This post aims to shed light on the pre-comma issue with the expression “no matter” in sentences.

 

Comma Before No Matter (1)
 

Should we place a comma before “no matter”?

The answer to the question is dependent on some stylistic and syntactic guidelines. A comma before no matter is required when it initiates a parenthetical statement as well as when it subsequently follows a parenthesis. Whereas, a pre-comma is unnecessary when no matter starts a sentence off, either as a part of a clause or a disjunctive phrase. Also, a comma is inapplicable when no matter is a part of a restricted or essential clause.

 

Comma before “no matter”

Stylistic and syntactic guidelines dictate the comma usage before the expression no matter.

As per the syntactical lens, no matter generally functions as a preposition used to introduce exhaustive conditional or unconditional interrogative statements.

This means that no matter is syntactically and semantically used to blatantly remove any possible issues in a statement.

Exhaustive conditionals often appear as interrogative clauses introduced by what, who, which, and so on to express all-encompassing probabilities. 

Unlike interrogatives which explicitly raise issues in the discourse, the unconditionals disqualify arguments by making them irrelevant to the statement.

Dad will do it, no matter what mom says.

The job of no matter is to semantically imply that all potential statements from the mother are insufficient to stop the father from taking action.

The clause no matter what mom says serves as an adverbial adjunct that complements whatever action is intended by the subject Dad.

Now, let’s delve deeper into the guidelines that dictate the pre-comma placement.

 

Parenthesis

A parenthesis is a linguistic device under stylistics that evokes the discursive function of persuasion.

Parenthetical statements may be expressed through words, phrases, clauses, sentences, or even a whole paragraph.

These are either accidental or intentional ideas inserted by the writer to emphasize, understate, digress, clarify, or add humor.

Parenthetical elements are offset with commas to mark their grammatical dispensability as well as their segregation from the rest of the sentence.

Hence, when a writer intends to use no matter as a parenthetical introductory phrase, a pre-comma is necessary.

She never learns, no matter what we say or do, and just keeps repeating the same mistake.

Since parenthetical statements are optionally written to add meaning to the sentence, we may compare this function to adverbial adjuncts in syntax.

 

After a parenthesis

A pre-comma placement is also required when no matter is used after a mid-sentence parenthetical insertion.

Since the last parenthetical component needs to be ended with a post-comma, then that comma should automatically precede no matter.

She has failed again for the nth time around despite all the guidance, which is unsurprising, no matter how hard we tried.

Note once again that the parenthetical statement, even when removed, will not hurt the grammaticality of the whole sentence.

Therefore, the sentence will still make perfect sense when the parenthesis is omitted.

Taking this into account, we can deduce that the no matter clause may also further function as a parenthetical clause, and thus the post-comma remains.

She has failed again for the nth time around despite all the guidance, no matter how hard we tried.

It constitutes a parenthetical clause because, again, the sentence still makes sense without the no matter fragment leaving the complete thought below.

She has failed again for the nth time around despite all the guidance.

The no matter clause may be syntactically called an adverbial adjunct or stylistically referred to as a parenthetical statement.

This means that the pre-comma insertion signals a pause and marks the emphasis of the unconditional statement.

Commas, therefore, prompt the reader to take a quick break, thereby highlighting the post-comma expression in the process.

Also, commas facilitate the disambiguation process by offsetting statements that are interesting yet grammatically-irrelevant to the whole sentence.

Hence, the comma before no matter is essential in emphasizing and disambiguating the unconditional statement.

 

When is a comma inessential before “no matter”?

Although the series of explanations above emphasizes the necessity of pre-commas, other cases may allow the comma omission too.

This is true particularly when no matter appears in the sentence-initial position and when the writer intends to use it as part of a restrictive clause.

Let’s look at each circumstance in detail.

 

Sentence initial

When no matter starts a sentence off, we do not place a pre-comma by sentence structure default.

As a standard rule, a sentence should not start with a punctuation mark.

However, a comma may come after the last word in the no matter-clause instead.

No matter how hard I try, I still could not convince her.

The initial clause functions dependently to another main idea which is stated afterward, thereby necessitating the comma to mark the clausal segregation.

Additionally, a comma may also come after no matter when it is used as the only introductory phrase in a sentence.

No matter, he will never recognize nor admit his faults.

The sentence above utilizes no matter as a disjunct which is used to express the writer’s opinion or emotion towards the whole statement.

 

Restrictive clause

A restrictive clause is a sentence element considered by the writer to be essential to the meaning of the whole sentence.

When no matter is treated by the writer as a restrictive sentence element, a comma must not be placed before it.

If her relationship with her family was well-established, she would be able to fix any issues no matter what.

The sentence above is specifically structured in such a way that no matter is part of an independent conditional clause.

This, in particular, is an example of the second conditional type wherein a hypothetical condition and its probable result are expressed in the same sentence.

The condition no matter what expresses the essentially relevant meaning of “whatever happens” in the main or independent clause.

Since the information is viewed as essential in light of the whole sentence, a pre-comma is not inserted.

Despite the fact that syntactic and stylistic guidelines dictate the comma usage before not matter, the decision is upon the writer’s discretion at the end of the day.

Whether or not to place a comma before no matter, leads the readers to understand one purpose.

That is, to assist any disambiguation possibilities or highlight information in any written language.

Ergo, commas are to be considered essentially functional in texts.