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Comma before or after “instead”: The Definitive Guide

Comma before or after “instead”: The Definitive Guide

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In this article, you will learn how to use commas with the adverb “instead.”

Without further ado, let’s dive right in.


Do you need a comma before or after instead?

A comma before “instead” is usually not needed. When instead is used as an introductory adverb at the beginning of the sentence, a comma goes after it. There is no comma before or after “instead of.”


Comma placement before or after “instead” in more detail

Well, more often than not, a comma does not come before this adverb, but it may come after it instead.

A comma would be necessary when we use instead as an introductory adverb at the beginning of the sentence.

However, this sentence structure may not be as common as placing it at the end.

The airfare for Hawaii is quite high this summer. Instead, we could go to Florida for a week-long vacation.

We must not punctuate it with a comma when it appears at the end of the sentence.

Also, it is recommended to place the adverb instead in the sentence’s tail part since native speakers structure their speech and writing this way.

Since the airfare for Hawaii is quite high this summer, we could go to Florida instead.

“Instead” may also be paired with “of”, forming the prepositional phrase “instead of” — this case does not directly require commas either.

A comma would only be necessary at the end of a dependent clause which is positioned at the beginning of the sentence. 

Instead of going to Hawaii, we could choose Florida.

On the other hand, no commas are needed if the sentence contains only one independent clause.

We could go to Florida instead of going to Hawaii.


Let’s choose Florida instead of Hawaii.

As always, there are exceptions, though.  

When “instead” is used in a serial list, then we would obviously need to place a comma both before and after it.

But this obviously doesn’t really have anything to do with the particular word “instead,” as any word would take commas under these circumstances. 

Rather, instead, and alternatively are adverbs that can be used to express other options or preferences.


Some common adverbs that denote options or preferences are rather, instead,  and alternatively.


Distinguishing “instead” and “instead of”

Although having a similar intent which is to denote the meaning “as an alternative to something”, these words are used differently in sentences.

The adverb “instead” is equivalent to saying “alternatively” which is supposed to be written either at the beginning or at the end of a sentence.

It is not advisable to situate instead in the middle of the sentence because it would incorrectly function as a conjunction.

We call this kind of writing fault a comma splice wherein two independent clauses are joined in one sentence. 

Here’s an example.

Incorrect: We could have gone to Hawaii, instead we went to Florida.

While this error is not uncommon in oral speech and informal writing, it is still advantageous to know its more appropriate usage.

Now, how about the preposition instead of?

Distinguishing the preposition instead of from the adverb form is rather easy.

All we need to do is check is the word after it.

Prepositions are always followed by an object which is a noun.

However, we also have to remember that a noun may also look like a verb ending in -ing called a gerund.

Again, please note the absence of commas right before or after instead of.

Last summer, we went to Florida instead of going to Hawaii.

We could also remove the gerund to further simplify the sentence.

Last summer, we went to Florida instead of Hawaii.

Here are a few more example sentences using the prepositional function.

Instead of going to the beach, we could go camping this summer.
I wish you’d come with us this summer instead of your colleagues.

To sum up, the main difference of instead and instead of is the part of speech they belong to.

The adverb form is only “instead” while the preposition “instead of” is composed of two words taken as one.

When it is used as an introductory adverb, a comma would be necessary but it has to be dropped when we put instead at the end of the sentence.

Meanwhile, as a preposition, an object needs to be placed after “of” which would always be any word acting as a noun and commas are not required at all.


Instead: Morphology and Meaning

Instead is morphologically formed by a process known as compounding–the combination of free morphemes to create a new meaning.

Being a free morpheme, the word “in” may fall into four different parts of speech–noun, adverb, adjective, and preposition–depending on how it is used in a sentence.

Most of the time, in functions as a preposition of time (in August)  and place (in Detroit).

On the other hand, “stead” may function either as a transitive verb which basically means “to help”, and as a noun which means “a substitute”.

The compounded morphemes turns into instead which means “as an alternative or substitute” to something.

Commas with Instead