Tag Archives: serial comma

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.


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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Bumbo Learns about Implied Words

The Koan

The teacher went to the platform to give his lesson on commas. He looked at the students, saying nothing. Then he wrote a comma on the wall and left. “Ah,” said Bumbo. “Missing words need commas, too!”

The Lesson

When the teacher stands before the students, saying nothing, all his words are implied. What Bumbo learns is that whether the sentence contains all the words or whether some words are purposefully left out, a writer needs to use commas as if they were all there. The comma left behind by the teacher indicates that comma rules apply even when some words are missing from a sentence. Continue reading

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Calling All Comma Masters

Nearly every day, I see comma errors in texts I read.

I don’t mean the texts clients send us for editing prior to publication. I expect to find comma errors in those documents. Clients send their documents to us at Precise Edit so we can make them right before they are submitted, delivered, or published. We edit the documents so they are well written, and we proofread them so they are correct.

What I mean is I find comma errors in articles, signs, books, and other types of texts that have already been finalized and made public. 

Do you find comma errors, too? Do you find commas in incorrect places or sentences missing commas? Are you a Comma Master?

Now is your chance to show off your comma mastery and have some fun. 

The Challenge 

Find a sentence in a public (i.e., published) document that contains a comma error. In the comments below, provide

  • the faulty sentence,
  • the source of the sentence,
  • an explanation of the error (a couple of sentences will be sufficient), and
  • the corrected sentence.

Any entry that provides this information will be considered a qualifying entry. I will accept only one qualifying entry per person.

Visit the Zen Comma blog to enter. 

You have until 11:59 p.m. (EDT), May 29, 2011, to enter this contest with a qualifying entry. Any entries after that time will not be considered. (This gives you about a week.) 

The Reward 

The person who provides the selected entry can choose any one of our books in PDF form (except Your Writing Companion, which we give away free at http://hostileediting.com). These include

  • Zen Comma: 45-page PDF with examples, instructions, and anecdotes to teach you the 14 major uses for commas and the most common errors;
  • 300 Days of Better Writing: 191-page PDF with 300 strategies for improving your writing, organized for daily study, with a topic index for in-depth exploration of a writing topic;
  • Precise Edit Training Manual: 65-page PDF with comprehensive instruction on the 29 most common editing strategies we use and problems we fix; and
  • Which Word Do I Use?: 18-page PDF with definitions, explanations, guidance on using the words, and examples with discussion.

Visit the Zen Comma blog for more information and to enter this contest.

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Where Does the Comma Go?

Do commas confuse you?

The final stage of the writing and editing process is proofreading: correcting any errors in spelling, punctuation, word usage, and format. Roughly 75% of what I do while proofreading clients’ documents is correct commas.

When I teach university writing courses, I ask the students, “What’s the number one thing that confuses you about punctuation and grammar?” In every class, someone says “Commas,” and about half of the students nod in agreement.

Commas confuse most people. Unlike other types of punctuation, they are used in so many ways. However, if you want to write clearly and professionally, you need to use commas correctly. Continue reading

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Use the Serial Comma

Commas in Series
  1. The toy was red [comma] round [comma] and heavy.
  2. I purchased pickles at the store [comma] gas at the convenience store [comma] and flowers at the florist for my beautiful wife.

Separate every item in a series with a comma.

Series: A series is a string of three or more matching items in a sentence. For example, the series in sample 1 contains three items: red, round, and heavy. The series in sample 2 also contains three items.

Take a look at sample 1 and see how the commas fit the rule. The first item is red, and it is separated from round by a comma. The second item is round, and it is separated from red and heavy by commas. Every item in the series is separated from the other items by commas.

The Zen Comma Master

Koan 1: Bumbo approached the teacher and said, “Teacher, I was taught not to use the comma before the word and. Is that true?” The teacher replied, “Newspapers.”

Continue reading

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