Comma with TOO


The Golden Comma

Comma before too? Do you or don’t you put a comma before too at the end of a sentence?

Yes, You Do

Put a comma before the final too when too means also or as well. For example, which of these two sentences is correct?

1. I think chocolate is tasty too.
2. I think chocolate is tasty, too.

The second sentence is correct. We use a comma before too when too is at the end of the sentence. We also put commas around too when too is embedded in the sentence, as in this example.

I know, too, that chocolate is tasty.

Lots of people are confused about how to use commas, when to use commas, and when to leave them out. But commas do make sense. We use a comma before too for a reason.

Reason

Zen Comma Rule N tells us to “Separate conjunctive adverbs with commas.” Too, when used to mean also or as well, is a conjunctive adverb, along with therefore, however, additionally, and other such words.

Conjunctive Adverb: An adverb that connects (i.e., joins) two clauses, that shows how the meaning of the second clause relates to the meaning of the first clause.

When we use too as a conjunctive adverb, therefore, we need to separate it from the rest of the sentence. This means when too is the final word in the sentence, we precede it with a comma.

Explanation and Comparison

Let’s look at another sentence that uses a conjunctive adverb:

The senator was ashamed. However, he remained in office.

Here, we have two discrete ideas, one per sentence. The second sentence begins with the conjunctive adverb however, which tells us that the meaning and the importance of the second sentence are somehow connected to the idea in the first sentence. That’s what a conjunctive adverb does. Let’s look at another example.

The principal expelled the student. He fired the teacher, as well.

The phrase as well is a conjunctive adverb. It tells the reader that the meaning being expressed in the second clause (i.e., He fired the teacher) somehow connects to the first clause (i.e., The principal expelled the student).

We see from the last example that the conjunctive adverb as well is separated from the sentence with a comma. When used in this manner, as well is a synonym for too. This tells not only that too is a conjunctive adverb but also that the final too needs to be separated from the sentence with a comma, as follows.

The principal expelled the student. He fired the teacher, too.

This example has the same meaning as the previous example. The only difference is we have swapped synonyms, changing as well for too. The comma remains before the final conjunctive adverb.

Words don’t determine punctuation. The function of those words, i.e., what those words do, determines the punctuation. As we see here, the function remains the same, so the punctuation, too, remains the same.

Too in Other Places

When we move too to other places in the sentence, Rule N still applies. Placing too at the beginning of a sentence is uncommon and, frankly, awkward, so we’ll skip it. However, too is common in other places. The most common place (other than the end of the sentence) is following the subject of the clause.

I, too, will go to the service.
John is a farmer, and Leroy, too, is a farmer.

Notice the commas around too. If we move too to the end of the sentence, the commas remain:

I will go to the service, too.
John is a farmer, and Leroy is a farmer, too.

Even though we moved too, it has the same meaning and same function in the sentence, so the same punctuation applies.

A Note about AP Style

I often hear people say something like “Hey, the AP style guide says don’t use that comma, so it’s wrong!” Ok, if you write for a newspaper, don’t use it—unless it contributes to clarity (which the AP guide supports). The Associated Press (AP) style guide, in general, encourages writers to remove as much punctuation as possible. This may be an effort to save room for journalists’ words in narrow newspaper columns.

If you’re not a journalist, you don’t need to follow AP style. AP style is not for all writers, which is why we also have the APA, MLA, and other style guides.

Final Thought

Here’s one of my general principles for using punctuation, and it applies to the comma before the final too.

Be consistent.

What this means: If we’re going to separate some conjunctive adverbs with commas, we will separate all conjunctive adverbs with commas—including too.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Comma with TOO

  1. which of these two sentences is correct?

    1. I think chocolate is tasty too.
    2. I think chocolate is tasty, too.

    They are both correct and mean different things. The first sentence tells the reader that someone besides me thinks chocolate is tasty (he thinks chocolate is tasty; I do too). The second sentence tells the reader that I think more than one thing is tasty, and that chocolate is one of them (I think licorice is tasty; I think chocolate is tasty, too).

  2. David: In both cases, the comma before “too” is required. However, you point out how the sentence can be interpreted in different ways. Both interpretations are valid, leading to potential confusion.

    In these cases, the context determines which interpretation is correct. “Too,” as a conjunctive adverb, indicates that the meaning of the current statement is somehow related to the meaning of the prior sentence.

    In “He thinks chocolate is tasty; I do, too,” the word “too” indicates that “I do” is related to “he thinks.”

    In “I think licorice is tasty; I think chocolate is tasty, too,” the word “too” indicates that “chocolate is tasty” is related to “licorice is tasty.”

    In fact, because “too” serves as a conjunctive adverb, linking the present statement to the prior statement, it guides the reader to the correct interpretation. The confusion you indicate results when the prior statement is not available, thus leaving “too” without anything to link to.

  3. Dana

    I disagree — the too is unnecessary and makes no useful distinction. It’s ambiguous with or without the comma and you can only understand it in context.
    Chicago Manual also disagrees, saying on this page
    http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/CMS_FAQ/Commas/Commas33.html :

    “Use commas with too only when you want to emphasize an abrupt change of thought:
    He didn’t know at first what hit him, but then, too, he hadn’t ever walked in a field strewn with garden rakes.
    In most other cases, commas with this short adverb are unnecessary (an exception being sentences that begin with too—in the sense of also—a construction some writers would avoid as being too awkward).”

  4. I agree with Dana’s post. Not only does the Chicago Manual of Style mention that it’s unnecessary most of the time, but I’ve found that other sources agree, saying that it’s not really necessary except for emphasis.

    http://www.dailywritingtips.com/comma-before-too/

    http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/when-use-comma-too

    In addition, not all conjunctive adverbs used at the end of a sentence require a comma before them. If they flow well without one and the break is very weak, it makes sense to omit the comma. Take the example below for instance.

    “When Kate ran out of ink in her pen, she used her pencil instead.”

    Those are my thoughts on the subject at any rate. My overall point is that the rules of the English language and punctuation are very fluid and change with time. I think this is just one of those changes taking place.

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