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Knowing where to use a comma before the word “so” is often challenging. Sometimes you need it; other times you should omit it because the context is different.

The comma is the most common punctuation mark and the one people wrestle with the most, particularly when it involves words such as so, when, where, which, and however. Let’s look at so.

The word so serves as different parts of speech, most commonly as a conjunction, which joins two clauses in a sentence.

  • Use the comma when it begins what is a called a clause of result or effect. Here are examples:

 It is difficult to relax during the week, so I like to get a way on weekends.

I will be on vacation next week, so please don’t contact me.

  •  Don’t use the comma when you use so that or so to explain why something happened. These are called clauses of purpose:

 We asked for approval early so that we could start on Monday.

The city wanted to tear down the building so the area could become a park.

Some language mavens adhere rigidly to the notion that both words so that are necessary to start the clause, but it has become common to use only so, unless it sounds when you read it that that is necessary.

So is also used as an adverb indicating “to what extent,” as in this sentence: The weather is so hot here or It has become so common.

One Response to “Punctuation Challenge: Using Commas Before “So””

  1. Ken O'Quinn

    John, we would typically punctuate the sentence this way: “It is difficult to relax during the week, so I like to get away.” A less commonly used option is this: “It is difficult to relax during the week. So I like to get away.”

    We don’t use a comma after “so” at the start of a sentence as much as we did, say, 50 years ago. It is part of a cultural shift toward fewer commas, because when certain elements fit smoothly into the flow of the sentence, we don’t pause at the location where the comma traditionally has appeared. If you reread my first option (above), you will see what I mean. If you were to say, “I lost my job, my car, and my savings. So, where do I go from here?” then you might use a comma because when you read that aloud, you will notice that a pause is more likely after “so.”

    That said, be careful about using a “pause” as the indicator of where to put a comma. That is historically how people have determined whether a comma is appropriate, but what is a natural pause for you is not necessarily a natural pause for the reader. The decision of where to put a comma typically rests on 1) whether there is a grammatical need to separate certain information within a sentence, or 2) if a comma would help the reader to clearly understand how sentence elements are related. In many other instances, the use of a comma is a judgment call. You need to determine whether whether the word fits gracefully into the sentence flow without the comma.

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