When was the last time you intensely thought about whether a comma should come before the word “without”?
If you are reading this post, it probably means that punctuation rules have gotten on your nerves, and you just badly want to tick this mystery off of your list.
So, without further ado, let us explore the specific situations where we need a comma before “without,” as well as when you should just leave it out.
When should a comma come before “without”?
A comma should go before “without” when it introduces an interruptive expression, comes before an interruptive expression, and appears after an introductory remark. Meanwhile, the comma should be left out when “without” is used as a restrictive preposition, adverb, and conjunction in a sentence.
The appropriate comma placement before “without” in detail
Are we talking about “coma” or “comma” today? Clearly enough, telling these two words apart adds insult to today’s injury – I mean “inquiry.” So, let’s not talk about that.
Punctuation appears to be quite an elusive area in writing because we somehow believe that dealing with its nooks and crannies is something that only writers do.
Perhaps, we feel like we may have not been taught enough back in high school, or we may have not learned enough back then.
Either way, we also understand that punctuation marks such as commas are essential tools for making our writing more precise, emphatic, and pace-appropriate.
That said, we likely feel “obliged” to do some self-learning activities by searching online and making sense of the available resources on our own.
As it turns out, commas are rarely necessary because the writer mostly has the authority and liberty on how to go about the text.
If you don’t have the time to read until the end, maybe checking our comma cheat sheet that covers all the rules in a compact format could at least help you in getting to know commas briefly.
The most worn-out, haphazard piece of advice that most people give is to place the comma whenever we would feel like pausing when reading aloud.
Apparently, this catch-all explanation does not work when the ultimate goal is to make writing more professionally done.
So, listed below are the specific instances for placing a comma before “without” that should guide you more accurately.
The necessary comma placement before “without”
Just like knowing when to place a necessary comma before “with” or “within,” the context and grammar of the sentence where the word belongs need to be considered.
A comma before “without” is necessary in the following cases:
When “without” introduces an interruptive expression
Otherwise known as a parenthetical phrase, an interruptive expression is a piece of information that we add to make a statement juicier and, therefore, more interesting.
Parenthetical phrases or interruptive expressions are like accessories that we use for decorative purposes, especially for the sake of adding emphasis.
To put this kind of expression in context, simply think of the times when you want to insert some comments or afterthoughts to what you originally need to say.
In the written world, we have to use commas to set interruptive expressions apart from the actual statement that we want to convey.
If you think about it, this rule does not only apply to the word “without” but also to every other word that introduces a piece of parenthetical or interruptive information.
An interruptive expression may come mid-sentence, such as in the example below:
An interruptive expression introduced by “without” may also come at the end of a statement, just like this one:
When either of the situations above applies in your writing, do not forget to place a comma before “without.”
When “without” appears after an interruptive expression
Now that we know what an interruptive or parenthetical expression is, this next rule should be like shooting fish in a barrel.
A comma should also come before “without” when it appears immediately after an interruptive expression.
Again, we separate interruptive thoughts with commas because they are not grammatically important in completing the meaning of our sentences.
In other words, they are grammatically disposable and are only used for aesthetic – or more precisely – stylistic reasons.
Here’s how “without” may be used after an interruptive expression in writing:
If you’re wondering, interruptive thoughts may also be placed inside parenthetical marks or round brackets for readability purposes.
If you’re interested, we also have another post that addresses the concern of whether a comma should go before or after a parenthesis in written texts.
When “without” appears after an introductory expression
The third and last rule that governs the necessary comma placement before “without” is when it appears after an introductory expression.
Introductory expressions are also elements that help in making our sentences clearer and context-bound.
More particularly, an introductory expression can be a word, phrase, or even clause that prompts or cues the reader about the upcoming information.
In the example below, the introductory adverb “then” is used to denote the meaning “next,” “afterward” or “subsequently.”
Without a doubt, a comma should come after “then” and right before “without” in the next example:
In case you would also like to know how to correctly punctuate “then” with a comma, you may also refer to our other text covering the comma-before-then topic.
The incorrect comma placement before “without”
Although we have already discussed when a comma should go before “without,” it is also important to know when we should just leave it out.
There is no need to place a comma before “without” in the following situations:
When “without” is used as a restrictive preposition
A restrictive expression is basically the opposite of a parenthetical or interruptive expression.
In English, the distinction between restrictive and non-restrictive clauses is best shown when “which” and “that” are used as relative pronouns.
When a word, phrase, or clause is grammatically vital in completing the meaning of the sentence, we describe it as “grammatically restrictive.”
Hence, no comma should be placed if and when “without” bears meaning that is restrictive or important to the whole meaning of the sentence in which it belongs.
The word “without” is in its prepositional form when it is followed by a noun phrase afterward.
In the example below, the preposition “without” is necessary for completing the meaning of the sentence, and thus, a comma should not be placed before it.
When “without” is used as a restrictive adverb
In other times, “without” may also be used restrictively as an adverb that denotes the meaning “lacking something.”
In cases like this, “without” is not usually followed by a noun because the meaning of the noun is already understood.
No comma should also come before “without” in the example below as “without” is essential to complete the meaning of the whole sentence.
However, a comma goes before “so” as it is a coordinating conjunction that links the cause-and-effect relationship of the two independent clauses in the example above.
Remember that a few specific conditions also guide the placement of a comma before or after “so” in writing, just like “without.”
When “without” is used as a restrictive (non-standard) conjunction
In Midland and Southern USA, “without” is dialectically used as a conjunctive or linking word similar to “unless.”
“Unless” is classified under subordinate conjunctions, whose job is to link an independent to a dependent clause.
Subordinating conjunctions are used in forming complex sentences in English, and they are not to be preceded by a comma.
While compound sentences are linked by coordinating conjunctions, complex sentences are linked by subordinating conjunctions.
When “without” is used as a subordinating conjunction like “unless,” no comma should come before it.
The comma usage with “FANBOYS” or coordinating conjunctions are also guided by general and specific conditions that are not hard to master.
Frequently Asked Questions on “Comma Before ‘Without’”
How do we use commas?
Grammatically, commas are often used for serial listing, such as in words or phrases linked by either “and” or “or” as well as segregating clauses in compound sentences. However, commas may also be used stylistically to convey emphasis, such as when using parenthetical expressions.
What part of speech does “without” belong?
“Without” can be used as a preposition, an adverb, and as a non-standard conjunction like “unless” in the USA.
What common phrases make use of “without”?
Some of the most frequently used phrases containing “without” are “without fail,” “without a shadow of a doubt,” “without question,” “without judgment,” “without hesitation,” and “without further ado.”
Commas are tricky, but they are also indubitably useful in making our thoughts more accurate and visible when writing.
By this point, I do hope that the intricacies of placing a comma before “without” are already made clear.
That’s all for now!
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.