When Do You Use a Comma Before “Because”?

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Most of the time, you should not use a comma before because when it connects two clauses in a sentence. Because is a subordinating conjunction, which means that it connects a subordinate clause to an independent clause; good style dictates that there should be no comma between these two clauses. An exception can and should be made when the lack of a comma would cause ambiguity.

Because has a straightforward job to do in the English language. It is one of several words and phrases used to introduce a “clause of purpose.” A clause beginning with because answers the question “Why?” and that clause is automatically subordinate to an independent clause. There should generally be no comma between the two.

Michael went to the forest, because he loves walking among the trees.

Michael went to the forest because he loves walking among the trees.

Mom went on a shopping spree, because I told her I was having a baby boy.

Mom went on a shopping spree because I told her I was having a baby boy.

I can’t make my favorite sandwich, because we are out of peanut butter.

I can’t make my favorite sandwich because we are out of peanut butter.

When to Make an Exception for Clarity

If a sentence will be ambiguous without a comma before because, it is better to insert one and avoid misleading your reader. The most problematic sentences containing because are often those that begin with a negative statement. Take this example:

Alex didn’t win the race because of his level of ability.

This sentence might imply that Alex won the race, but that ability was not the most important factor contributing to his victory. Perhaps Alex has an extraordinary ability to dig deep and persevere over long distances.

Alex didn’t win the race because of his level of ability. He won because he knows how to dig deep and keep running no matter how hard it gets.

Or perhaps Alex is a rascally scoundrel and won for completely different reasons.

Alex didn’t win the race because of his level of ability. He won because he cut across a farmer’s field.

Either way, without a comma before because, it can be implied that there was no relationship between Alex’s victory and his level of ability. However, if your intention is to convey that Alex’s level of ability was the primary factor that secured his win, insert a comma to make the causation clear.

Alex didn’t win the race, because of his level of ability.

With the comma in place, it becomes clear for the first time that Alex was in fact not the winner of the race, and that his ability is probably not at a sophisticated level. This sentence might lead to another sentence supporting the idea that Alex’s running ability is quite low.

Alex didn’t win the race, because of his level of ability. I’m hoping that he will improve with practice and keep trying hard.

See what a difference a comma can make?

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