“Otherwise” – Comma Rules Explained (Helpful Examples)

The comma rules associated with the conjunctive adverb “otherwise” are a little finicky. Luckily, this article is here to help you and explain everything you need to know about using “otherwise” correctly.

Should I Place A Comma Before Or After “Otherwise”?

You should place a comma after “otherwise” in almost every case. We use it as a conjunctive adverb to connect two clauses with each other. It works best when connecting two independent clauses. There are never times where a comma can come before “otherwise.”

otherwise comma

Instead of worrying about a comma before “otherwise,” we should only ever focus on placing a period or semi-colon before it.

We’ll give you three examples to show you what we mean:

  • He couldn’t see her, otherwise, he would have to tell her the truth.
  • He couldn’t see her; otherwise, he would have to tell her the truth.
  • He couldn’t see her. Otherwise, he would have to tell her the truth.

All of these sentences are identical. However, only two are grammatically correct.

The first one with the comma before “otherwise” is incorrect. We cannot place a comma before it in this way because it connects two independent clauses. The sentence breaks with a comma in this way are incorrect.

The second and third examples are synonymous. We can use a semi-colon or period interchangeably. Many people use semi-colons when they want the sentence to continue a little longer, while periods are useful for breaking up sentences or long bodies of text.

When Should I Place A Comma After “Otherwise”?

Let’s start by looking closer at placing a comma after “otherwise.” After all, this is the correct way to use “otherwise” in almost every case.

You should place a comma after “otherwise” whenever it connects two clauses. Since this is the most common use for “otherwise,” we always place commas after it.

We’ll start with the first example we shared with you.

When “otherwise” connects two clauses (usually independent ones), we always place a comma after it. You have to remember this sentence structure because it’s vital to be grammatically correct with your writing.

  1. They couldn’t be with each other. Otherwise, everyone was going to tell them how stupid they were.
  2. I didn’t have it in me to help them; otherwise, I would have been the first to try.
  3. We didn’t go much further; otherwise, we might have gotten into a lot of trouble.
  4. I needed to do that; otherwise, people were going to talk!
  5. I wanted to show you; otherwise, you never would have believed what I was saying!
  6. I had to be there for you; otherwise, who knows who might have got here before me.
  7. You shouldn’t have said anything to me; otherwise, I could have helped you in some way.

As you can see, “otherwise” is most common when it connects two sentences or clauses with each other. It’s a very useful conjunctive adverb in this way, and we should understand that commas always come after it in this form.

When Should I Place A Comma Before “Otherwise”?

While “otherwise” mostly joins two sentences or clauses together, there are certain situations where commas work before “otherwise.” However, in order to do this properly, we have to completely forget about the conjunctive adverb rules.

You should place a comma before “otherwise” when it’s part of a parenthetical element. It has to be the first word when using it in this case, and we usually do it to show how something might be known as an alternative.

When used in this way, “otherwise” is not a conjunction. We do not connect two sentences with each other. Instead, we’re trying to add further information to one sentence by showing what someone or something might also be known as.

Here’s how it looks:

  1. My mother, otherwise known as the demon of the city, doesn’t let any of the school children have fun in the yard.
  2. My friend, otherwise known as Emil, isn’t going to make it to my party.
  3. My job, otherwise known as hell on earth, is causing me to have a lot of issues.
  4. I care very little for Mr. Paris, otherwise known as my second-in-command.
  5. You shouldn’t have said that to Mr. Hampshire, otherwise known as Paul.

As you can see, the situations where a comma comes before “otherwise” are few. We only use it in this way when we’re talking about an alternative of some kind.

If you’re not talking about an alternative, it’s much more likely that you’re using it as a conjunction, which requires a semi-colon or period before it.

Is It Ever Correct To Use “Otherwise” Without A Comma?

There is one other case of punctuation that we have yet to mention. You might have read through this article and thought about a time where a comma isn’t necessary with “Otherwise.” Is that even possible?

You don’t need a comma with “otherwise” when using it as an adjective to talk about something that happens in other respects to something else. We can also use it without a comma as an adverb, in the same way, to talk about how something is affected in other ways.

The adjective form of “otherwise” is more common than you might know. It’s not just a conjunction. For that reason, we need to understand how it works without any commas involved.

  1. The otherwise completely black kitten was so cute!
  2. An otherwise elderly man was coming toward me with racing speed.
  3. The otherwise untimely departure of my mother made it difficult for me to think straight.
  4. Your otherwise backward way of thinking is far too much for me to try and comprehend.
  5. This otherwise delicious piece of fruit isn’t something I’ve ever thought of trying myself.
  6. I couldn’t have said it better otherwise.
  7. We needed to talk about the otherwise totally irrelevant feats that took place today at the carnival.

It’s a fairly common adjective. However, it’s also an old-fashioned one. Many people avoid using it today because it’s not too particular with its meaning.

However, if you do want to use it, understand that it means that something can happen in other ways or in other respects.

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