Knowing when and where to place commas is not an easy thing to do; it requires stylistic and grammatical knowledge. This is particularly true with the word “whenever.”
Being an adverb and a conjunction at the same time, “whenever” is also naturally a tricky word to use, especially among many non-natives.
So today, we cover the nitty-gritty of using a comma before “whenever” to make English learning easier.
Let’s get right into it.
When does a comma come before “whenever”?
A comma should come before “whenever” when it is used to introduce an interruptive idea or when it is used after another interruptive idea. A comma before “whenever” is also needed when it is used after an introductory expression as well as when it comes after a direct address.
Comma before “whenever”: Grammar and Context
“Whenever” is a combination of the words “when” and “ever.” It can be used either as an adverb or conjunction in sentence construction.
As an adverb, “whenever” is used to emphasize our typical “when.” It is best used to suggest the meaning “no matter when” to introduce an afterthought or parenthetical expression.
When “whenever” is used somewhere within the sentence to additionally introduce an interruptive phrase or clause, a comma is intentionally used before it.
In the sentence above, the adverbial phrase “whenever possible” actually modifies “to help.” However, as it is used as an interruptive thought, it has to be enclosed with commas.
Because of the writing strategy done in the example sentence, readers get to understand that the intention of the writer is mainly to recommend rather than impose an action.
As a conjunction, “whenever” is known to be a subordinating type of conjunction just like “because” and “if.” Whenever this is the intent, a comma should not come before it.
In the sentence above, the clause “whenever she sees misplaced commas” is grammatically linked to the preceding clause, which is the main clause.
Because of the writing strategy used, readers get to understand that meaning of the whenever-clause is grammatically dependent on the main clause.
Adding “ever” to wh-words like “when,” “where,” “which,” and “who” changes the typical meaning of these words.
With this in mind, the newly formed words now contain the implied meaning of “it doesn’t matter,” “no matter,” or “regardless of.”
These kinds of words are useful for increasing the emphasis or strength of our intended meaning. Since this is quite a complex process, we generally learn them later in life.
As these words already require higher-order thinking skills, punctuating them appropriately is naturally a different ball game as well.
So, the next couple of sections aims to simplify pre-comma-related rules to “whenever,” which are not necessarily set in stone, to make the English language less of a nuisance.
Place a comma before “whenever” when…
Using commas correctly makes the written language more organized, meaningful, and of course, thought-provoking.
If you have ever wondered how and why you got to love a book so much in the past, one main reason behind it is how writers strategically use their commas.
To have a glimpse of how commas work in general, our comma cheat sheet should provide some quick yet definitive tips for this topic.
Now, let’s try to understand more about when to use a comma before “whenever” and stick to this concern alone. This should make punctuation tactics more chewable.
When “whenever” is used to introduce an interruptive idea
Interruptive thoughts or ideas are comments or opinions that are used to evoke some emotion in our speech or writing piece. These interruptions are also called parenthetical expressions.
When we speak, we naturally use interruptive thoughts because of how rich our ideas can be. In other words, we can’t really be “too grammatically structured” when speaking.
This happens because we do not have enough preparation time to express everything we want to convey in just one sitting – or speaking to be more precise.
When we transform our speech into written texts, we also get prompted to use this strategy to make writing more creative.
Because it is impossible to use facial expressions, tone of voice, and bodily gestures when writing, we replace these with punctuation marks instead.
More particularly, commas mainly make all the above-mentioned things happen in the world of writing. Therefore, commas exist to make any writing piece more interesting.
As mentioned earlier, a comma essentially comes before “whenever” when it is used to introduce an interruptive thought or idea.
Let’s take a look at another example to make the explanation more visible.
Parenthetical expressions are quite tricky to use in real life, but there is a simple life hack that we can use to make them easier.
We can simply remove the parenthetical idea from our sentence. If the sentence still makes complete grammatical sense, then we are using it correctly.
In the new sentence above, though, the implied recommendatory or consultative feeling brought by “whenever appropriate” gets lost.
Nevertheless, it also tells us that the comma before “whenever” is correctly used because the new sentence still makes sense.
When “whenever” is used after another interruptive idea
Especially in creative writing contexts, using a series of interruptive or parenthetical ideas is as common as pig tracks.
The reason behind this is, again, to imitate the way we use the spoken language, which also makes a lot of sense.
So, it follows that a comma should also come before “whenever” whenever it appears after another interruptive idea within the same sentence.
Here’s an example to show the explanation:
Note, though, that the kind of construction shown above is best reserved for creative rather than academic writing contexts.
As commas are used to evoke some emotion or feeling in the reader, it is best to avoid them in any objective writing scenarios.
When “whenever” is used after an introductory expression
A comma before “whenever” is also necessary when an introductory phrase comes before it. These introductory phrases are mostly adverbs and conjunctions or a combination of both.
Like parentheticals, introductory expressions also add meaning to our sentences. On top of that, they also make our sentences and paragraphs more coherent or logical.
So, always place a comma before “whenever” every time it is used right after an introductory word or phrase without considering its part of speech.
Note that this comma after an introductory word or phrase rule is also true with any other word out there besides “whenever.”
When “whenever” is used after a direct address
A direct address is also called referred to as the vocative case in language studies. Placing a comma before or after a name or direct address also has its own can of worms.
A comma before a vocative expression should be carefully observed when considering grammatical correctness.
However, in real-life written conversations with close-knit people, we normally lose the comma for convenience purposes.
If we are to follow the standard punctuation rules for direct addresses, a comma should always come before, after, or even both before and after the direct address.
So, when this happens with “whenever,” the same comma rule should also apply. Hence, a comma before “whenever” is necessary when a direct address comes before it.
Note that we need to use commas around the direct addressee “Joe” because the writer is “talking,” or more precisely writing, directly to Joe.
The idea of using commas around a direct address is to distinguish it from the typical use of nouns in indicative sentences, such as this one:
Do not place a comma before “whenever” when…
To make things crystal clear, let us also try to know when not to use a comma before “whenever.”
The rules in this section should be easier to understand now that we have already covered the necessary comma guidelines.
When “whenever” is used as a subordinating conjunction
In sentence construction, the rule of thumb is not to use a comma before a subordinating clause that comes mid-sentence.
Subordinating conjunctions connect dependent clauses to independent or main clauses in a logical manner.
This means that a subordinate or dependent clause cannot stand alone in a sentence. Their meaning grammatically depends on the main clause to make sense.
This rule applies to all other subordinating conjunctions like “because,” “if,” “unless,” “since,” “although,” “lest,” “even though,” “in as much as,” “as soon as,” and so on.
So, leave out your comma when you intend to use “whenever” this way:
Note, though, that the comma rule changes when you decide to invert your sentence. In this structure, a comma should already come before the independent or main clause.
The idea of using “whenever” as a subordinating conjunction is to suggest freer or less restricted action or idea.
As a conjunction, “whenever” suggests the meaning “at any time” or “at your convenience,” which is useful when we want to be more polite with our requests or assertions.
When “whenever” is used as a restrictive adverb
Apart from being a conjunction, “whenever” can also be used as an adverb to suggest the meaning “at any time” or as a more emphatic version of “when.”
When used restrictively, which means to specify the implied circumstances of an idea, no comma should come before “whenever.”
Also, no comma should come before “whenever” when it is restrictively used as a more intense or stronger version of “when.”
In sum, the idea of using “whenever” as a restrictive adverb in sentence construction simply boils down to how we use adverbs in general.
This means that for as long as an adverb is not used to introduce additional information for emphasis, no comma should come before it in sentence construction.
Frequently Asked Questions on “Comma Before ‘Whenever’”
What does “whenever” mean?
“Whenever” generally suggests the meaning “at any time,” and it can also be used to suggest a more intense meaning than the typical “when” when asking questions. Also, “whenever” is generally used as a polite expression when we want to send someone a command or request.
Is “whenever” a conjunction or an adverb?
“Whenever” can be used either as a conjunction or an adverb in sentence construction. As a conjunction, it mainly means “at any time.” As an adverb, it is mainly used as a stronger or more emphatic version of “when” in questions.
Do we need a comma before “when” in the middle of a sentence?
When used as a conjunction midsentence to connect a dependent clause to a preceding independent clause, a comma should not come before “when.”
Using the word “whenever” is already tricky, let alone punctuating it correctly. Nevertheless, the rules for comma usage in English are pretty much universal.
So, what we need to improve our writing skills are more practice and patience. As they say, the more we do, the more we can do.
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.