For anyone who struggles with their grammar, the comma can be one of the most confusing aspects of English. Some may have heard that you should always put a comma before “with”, others may have heard that you should never do such a thing. Both are wrong.
Today, we’ll look at when you should or shouldn’t use a comma before the word “with”.
Should you put a comma before with?
When “with” is before an “introductory parenthetical element” (new information), you should use a comma.
“Blake pushed the bike, with a sore leg from cycling all day”.
But when it’s an adverbial adjunct element (description), there is no comma.
“Blake cycled with the grace of a fleeing deer”.
Explaining when to put a comma before with
If you’re anything like me when I first started learning all these new rules, you are scratching your head a bit, wondering what half of that means. Let me break it down for you.
Parenthetical comes from “Parenthesis”, which is an explanation or afterthought.
“Blake pushed the bike, with a sore leg from cycling all day”.
In this sentence, the fact he has a sore leg is additional information that the first clause could have done without.
Adverbial adjunct element.
An “adverb” is a description of a doing word.
“He cycled with the grace of a fleeing deer”, is a description of how he was cycling.
A general rule of thumb for comma before with
A good rule to follow is to ask yourself “Is the phrase after “with” describing the word before “with”.
“Blake helped his friend with a broken leg”
Here, we don’t add the comma because we are describing his friend. It’s his friend who has the broken leg, not Blake.
“Blake helped his friend, with a broken leg”. Unlike the previous sentence, because of the addition of the comma, it’s Blake who has the broken leg, not his friend.
Remember, if it’s additional information, use a comma. If it’s a description, don’t use a comma.
3 examples of no comma before with
“I walked over to the pub with my favourite beer inside. I didn’t want to be there. But I had a terrible addiction that I was trying to get over”
“The rabbit swam with both his paws. He knew that all he had to do was get to the other side. As soon as he did, he would be free from the clutches of the wolf”
“She skipped into the house with the baked goods. She had worked hard all day, and she knew that she needed a treat”
3 examples of comma before with
“Anna helped her grandmother to do her weekly shopping, with all the good will in the world. She knew that if she didn’t help her, she would end up buying plenty of raffle tickets, but nothing to eat”
“Aaron waters the plants, with a spring in his step, He knew that it would be just a few more weeks before these plants would start flowering and he would have a beautiful garden”.
“The team got started on stopping the villain, with no time to waste. They all knew that if got to build his bomb before 11am, it would quite literally be the end of the world”.
Comma before “with the exception of”
Aside from those two rules, there are some other things we should keep in mind when deciding whether or not to use a comma before “with”.
When you write the phrase “with the exception of”, it’s normally best that you put a comma before the “with”.
So, I would say “I want nobody, with the exception of my family”. Because “with the exception of”is a new phrase, we should put the comma before the “with”.
“I don’t like chocolate, with the exception of that strange stuff I had when I visited Holland”.
It’s rare for there to be a comma before with
Although I managed to get some examples of sentences that used the comma before “with”, in the real world, it’s pretty rare, although not completely unheard of for the word “with” to require a comma in front of it.
Most of the time, when we say “with”, we mean it as a preposition. Therefore, adding a comma in front of it is not something that is usually done. However, you may write a sentence that should have a comma before “with”. And should that ever happen, you must know what the rules are.
The multiple definitions of “with”
Like many seemingly simple words, “with” has several definitions.
I’m having sausage with chips and bacon.
He worked with his wife in the pub.
I made this cake with apples and oranges.
She was with the company for three years.
He ran the marathon, with a broken leg.
I am with no children of my own.
As we can see, the word “with” is mailable, and the precise definition of it can change depending on what you are trying to say with your sentence. This is why it’s such a common word when you speak to English people.
Alternatives to comma before “with”
If, for whatever reason, you don’t want to put a comma before “with”, here are some ways you can rearrange a sentence to make you happy.
- Blake pushed the bike, with a sore leg from cycling all day.
- With a sore leg from cycling all day, Blake pushed the bike.
- Despite having a sore leg from cycling all day, Blake pushed the bike.
- Blake pushed the bike, despite having a sore leg from cycling all day.
- Blake had been cycling all day, his leg was sore. So, he decided to push his bike.
I understand that this was probably one of the most complicated and least straightforward articles we have on this website. But, now that you know the answer, you won’t get confused about whether or not to put a comma before “with”.
Most of the time, the answer is no. The only exception would be if you’re saying “with the exception of” or you’re adding on an explanation or afterthought. But hopefully, we’ve managed to make it seem simple enough that next time you need to know, you’ll remember.
There is no denying that the rules of the comma are not always quite as straightforward as our English teachers once had us believe. But that doesn’t mean we can’t get our language correct as often as we can.
Other Comma Rules You Might Find Interesting:
Comma Before “And”: Here’s The Golden Rule + 23 Examples
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.