When it comes to the rules of the comma, it can sometimes seem like you need a degree just to write an email. And while it’s true there are probably more rules than there needs to be, once you get your head around them, it’s not too bad.
Today, I want to talk about some of the rules surrounding when you should and shouldn’t use a comma before (or after) the word “then”.
When to put a comma before “then”
Use a comma with “then” when it’s at the start of a conditional clause, part of a coordinating conjunction, or at the end of a conditional sentence.
Other times, you don’t need the comma before “then”.
What are Conditional Clauses?
When you’re told that something is “conditional”, that means for it to be accurate, something else must also be true. Or, as the maths nerds might prefer to say, “If X then Y”.
A conditional clause relies on another clause within the sentence to make sense and convey the point that the writer/speaker was hoping to get across. In this context, replacing the “then” with a full stop will change the meaning of what you’re trying to say.
“If you want cake, then you must eat your greens”. This means that if he doesn’t want cake, he doesn’t need to eat his greens.
“You must eat your greens”, means that he doesn’t get a choice.
Examples of “then” in conditional clauses.
“If you don’t take out the bins, clean your room, and wipe the table, then you won’t be getting the money you need for that concert”.
“If you want to become rich when you’re my age, then the best thing to do is study hard while you’re at school”.
“If he wasn’t so useless, then he might actually have done something for our nation”.
“If you don’t understand the basics, then this course isn’t for you”.
What are Coordinating Conjunctions?
Another time you should use a comma before “then” is with coordinating conjunctions. And don’t worry, “coordinating conjunctions” is just academic talk for “a word that joins two clauses in a sentence and shows they’re related to one another”.
Other examples of coordinating conjunctions are “and” and “but”.
Before and after the coordinating conjunction, the two clauses are talking about similar things and just as important as one another.
If you get rid of the “,then”, the two sentences should make sense by themselves.
“I went shopping, then I went for a drink” makes sense.
“I went shopping. I went for a drink” also makes sense.
Examples of “then” in coordinating conjunctions
“I couldn’t quite decide what I was supposed to do, then I realised I had to do something”.
“The meaning of life is so strange. Life sucks, then you die”.
“He walked up to the man in the hat, then tapped him on the shoulder”.
“She drove her car to the edge of the cliff, then she stayed there for an hour”.
“The dog walked into the house, then went straight to his bed”.
“I woke up, then brushed my teeth”.
“We went for a walk, then we had an ice cream”.
Use a comma when “then” is at the end of a sentence (conditional)
The final time you should put a comma before “then” is when the word has come at the end of a sentence, and you’re talking about a conditional.
I know that sounds a bit odd, but let me put it this way.
“He’s at the party? I won’t be going, then.”
As we can see from this example, the “then” has shown that I won’t be at the party because “he” will be at the party.
Remember how earlier we spoke about conditional clauses? Putting “,then” at the end of a sentence is essentially taking one of those sentences and rearranging it.
“You haven’t taken out the bins, cleaned your room, and wiped the table. You won’t be getting the money you need for that concert, then”.
“Do you want to become rich when you’re my age? the best thing to do is study hard while you’re at school, then”.
“He shouldn’t be so useless. He might actually have done something for our nation, then “.
“You don’t understand the basics,this course isn’t for you, then”.
“You don’t like it? You can leave, then”.
“If 1+1=2, 2+2 must equal 4, then”.
“If one cake feeds 5, 2 cakes will feed 10, then”.
Don’t use a comma when “then” is at the end of a sentence (time)
However, just because the word “then” is at the end of a sentence does not mean there should be a comma before it.
When “then” refers to a point in time, you should not put a comma before it.
“See you, then” is saying that the speaker will see the other person at an uncertain time or place because of what was said before.
“See you then” is saying that the two have agreed upon the next time they’ll see each other. “Then” refers to this time.
When “then” refers to a point in the future you have just discussed, don’t include the comma.
Do you need a comma before “and then”?
What about “and then”? Do you need a comma before the “and”?
To put it quite simply, no.
“I ate and then I slept”. Is how to write that sentence. If you insist on using a comma, for whatever reason, you will need to get rid of the “and”.
If you want to learn about the comma’s rules and “and”, check out this other article we have.
Usually, when “then” is preceded by “and”, “then” is used concerning time, not a condition.
The word “then” is one of those super simple words that we learn when we’re 5. However, the rules of grammar can haunt us, pestering us on every email we write.
I’ll be honest with you. If you misuse the comma, the world will not collapse in on itself. However, this is not to say it isn’t important.
By using the correct grammar, we can better get across the point we want to, and the reader can better understand our world view.
“See you then” and “See you, then” have two completely different meanings, and knowing which one you want to say can help you come across as either happy or miserable.
Other Comma Rules You Might Find Interesting: