Making sure we understand the rules associated with using commas is essential in English. If you want your writing to flow correctly, you’ll need to understand the comma rules. In this article, we’ll look at how commas apply to the word “unfortunately” in various ways.
Should I Place A Comma Before Or After “Unfortunately”?
“Unfortunately” has a comma before and after it when used as an additional piece of information in the text. It has a comma only after it when used as a disjunctive adverb at the start of a sentence (to express regret). If used as an adjective, no comma is needed.
Unfortunately, the word “unfortunately” doesn’t come with simple rules. There are three different variations of it which explain how it’s used in different situations. Luckily, once you’ve read through this article, you’ll have a more thorough understanding of how it works.
According to The Cambridge Dictionary, “unfortunately” is “used to say that something is sad, disappointing, or has a bad effect.”
When Should I Place A Comma Before “Unfortunately”?
So, let’s go over each case using “unfortunately” and how comma rules apply to it. We’ll start with placing a comma before it to see how it’s impacted.
When using a comma before “unfortunately,” you must always include a comma after. This turns it into something called a parenthetical element (using parentheses just like this).
Sometimes, you might not include the comma directly after “unfortunately.” In these cases, it’s because there’s more to add to the parenthetical element before you can close it with a comma.
- The new government, unfortunately elected by the masses, is putting forward seriously devastating agendas.
In this case, the parenthetical element includes “elected by the masses,” so the comma is only used before “unfortunately.”
It’s very rare for a case like this to come up, which is why we say it’s best to always remember that a comma is used before and after “unfortunately” in this case.
The Parenthetical Element
To help you understand what we mean about using a parenthetical element, we’ll include some examples and discuss them more later.
- He, unfortunately, wasn’t feeling well enough to attend.
- You, unfortunately, have a few weeks left before you’re evicted.
- Sorry to say this, but, unfortunately, we’ll have to revoke your rights.
In all of these examples, we’re using “unfortunately” as a parenthetical element. You might be slightly confused by what that word means still, but we have a really simple solution.
In all of the examples, you can remove “unfortunately” from the sentence and still have it make sense. Yes, “unfortunately” adds meaning in this way, but we don’t need it for the sentence to work.
- He wasn’t feeling well enough to attend.
- You have a few weeks left before you’re evicted.
- Sorry to say this, but we’ll have to revoke your rights.
As you can see, we can remove “unfortunately” entirely from the sentence. The general meaning is still conveyed, but that’s the rough idea of why we use parenthetical elements. They simply add further information to the sentence.
When Should I Place A Comma After “Unfortunately”?
Next, let’s go over placing a comma after “unfortunately.” The same rules apply here as we mentioned above since you can’t write “unfortunately as a parenthetical element” without including a comma after.
“Unfortunately” is written with a comma after it as either a parenthetical element or a disjunctive adverb. A disjunctive is an adverb used at the start of a sentence with a comma directly after it.
Some people like to connect adverbs like “unfortunately” to the previous sentence with a semi-colon. Other times, a period is required. In either of these cases, it’s good to include a comma after the word, but obviously, there isn’t room to use one before.
We won’t go through using “unfortunately” with a comma before and after since we’ve already covered it above. We’ll focus on using it as a disjunctive.
A disjunctive adverb is the opposite of a conjunctive adverb. A disjunctive adverb uses a period before it and starts a new sentence. A conjunctive adverb uses a semi-colon before it to connect it to the previous clause.
Generally, a conjunctive adjective can also be a disjunctive adjective. “Unfortunately” is mostly used as a disjunctive, meaning you can start an entirely new sentence with the adverb “unfortunately” and use a comma directly after it to convey the emotion.
- Unfortunately, I won’t be able to help you until I return.
- Unfortunately, you can’t keep doing this and getting away with it.
- Unfortunately, his father passed away not long after his sixteenth birthday.
In all of these cases, we start the sentence with “unfortunately.” That means we only need to include a comma after it rather than before. Similar to the parenthetical element above, we can still remove the word “unfortunately” and have it hold the same general meaning.
- I won’t be able to help you until I return.
- You can’t keep doing this and getting away with it.
- His father passed away not long after his sixteenth birthday.
As you can see, we can remove “unfortunately” at the start of the sentence here. We include it in the first place because we use it to express regret or sadness. It just adds extra meaning to the whole sentence through a separate clause.
How Do You Use “Unfortunately” In The Middle Of A Sentence?
There are a few cases where “unfortunately” is used in the middle of a sentence. The two we want to talk about are using it as a modifier – one for adjectives and the other for verbs.
In both of these cases, no commas are needed when we write “unfortunately.” There is the instance we explored earlier of using it as a parenthetical element which also includes it in the middle of the sentence.
However, the modifier form of “unfortunately” works slightly differently.
We use “unfortunately” as a modifier for a verb or an adjective when we want to change the meaning slightly to show that there is deep regret, sympathy, or sorrow.
Both verbs and adjectives are possible to modify in these cases. You’ll often find “unfortunately” comes directly after the pronoun and directly before the verb or adjective in question.
Verb Examples/Parenthetical Element
We’ll go over some verb modifier examples first of all.
- He unfortunately missed his train by about four minutes.
- She unfortunately got lost.
- I unfortunately need to go home.
In all of these cases, it’s possible to use commas as a parenthetical element or to avoid them completely. This is mostly related to personal preference rather than any particular language rules.
- He, unfortunately, missed his train by about four minutes.
- She, unfortunately, got lost.
- I, unfortunately, need to go home.
- The unfortunately missing boy was finally found today.
- My unfortunately blind dog is turning three.
- Her unfortunately deaf child is one of the nicest children I’ve ever met.
Unlike the verb modifier form, there is never a case where commas can be used when “unfortunately” is used as a modifier for adjectives. It must also be kept alone without commas.
Can You Start A Sentence With “Unfortunately”?
You can start a sentence with “unfortunately” when you’re using it as a disjunctive adverb. That means that you start a new sentence and put a comma directly after it. It’s used to add a meaning of sadness or regret to the following clause.
When used at the start of a sentence, “unfortunately” becomes its own clause. You add a comma to the end of it to showcase this. It’s possible to remove it and still have the sentence mean the same thing, though you’ll be losing some of the impact and emotion that comes with the word.
Is It Ever Correct To Use “Unfortunately” Without A Comma?
It is correct to use “unfortunately” without a comma in two cases. When you’re using it as a modifier for a verb or an adjective, you can write it in the middle of a sentence without a comma.
In the case of using it as a verb modifier, it’s up to the writer whether they want to include commas or not. The following examples indicate this:
- You, unfortunately, don’t have what it takes.
- You unfortunately don’t have what it takes.
Both cases are correct. The first example is the parenthetical element, where “unfortunately” can be removed. The second example is modifying the verb “don’t.”
You can also use it as a modifier for an adjective. In this case, it’s always correct to use it without commas, and you can’t write it as a parenthetical element.
- My unfortunately injured hand is slowly recovering.
Unfortunately – Synonyms
Finally, let’s look at some alternatives to using “unfortunately” that we might be able to use in similar ways.
We can express the sadness in our emotions by using “sadly” instead of “unfortunately.” It’s a more common word to use because “sad” is the typical emotion we express.
If we regret the sentence we’re about to write, then “regrettably” is also a great word to use in place of “unfortunately.”
You may also like: 12 Better Words For “Unfortunately” In Formal Emails
Martin holds a Master’s degree in Finance and International Business. He has six years of experience in professional communication with clients, executives, and colleagues. Furthermore, he has teaching experience from Aarhus University. Martin has been featured as an expert in communication and teaching on Forbes and Shopify. Read more about Martin here.