Comma Before “Both” – Rules, Examples & Practice Sheet

27.01.24 Commas Time to read: 7min

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The correct use of commas in an academic paper is essential to remain clear and structured and to enable an easier understanding. Having difficulties understanding comma rules is a common problem among students due to the lack of detailed knowledge and quantity of comma rules. Therefore, placing commas wrong is a frequent occasion in academic writing. With an explanation of the rules of using a comma before the word “both,” this article aims to clarify this phenomenon.

When to place a comma before “both”

In general, there are many cases where a comma before “both” is necessary. A comma before the word “both” is due in the case of an introductory absolute construction followed by the word “both.” If “both” appears in the middle of a sentence as a non-essential phrase, introducing additional information, a comma before the word is needed. In the case of a complex sentence that starts with a dependent clause, a clause that cannot stand on its own, and is followed by an independent clause that is introduced by “both,” a comma before the word is required. Lastly, when “both” appears at the end of a sentence replacing the names of addressees or preceding a non-word filler, a comma should be used.

The literal meaning of the word “both” and some grammatical uses also have cases where a comma before the word is not necessary. “Both” being used as a regular pronoun referring to two objects or individuals results in no comma usage. If “both” is used as a regular determiner replacing two items previously mentioned or as a regular adverb modifying different word forms, there is also no need to use a comma before the word.

Comma

Absolute construction

Non-essential phrase

Introductory dependent clause

Direct address or non-word-filler

No comma

Regular pronoun

Determiner

Regular adverb

 

Comma rules may vary depending on different Style Guides. In general, it is to be considered whether the sentence is easily understood without the usage of a comma.

Comma before “both”

In general, a comma before “both” is necessary when the word follows an absolute construction, introduces non-essential phrases mid-sentence, follows an introductory dependent clause, or in the case of a direct address, replaces addressees at the end of a sentence.

Absolute construction

Introductory phrases are short ideas that serve to make an easy transition between sentence segments. In a syntactical sense, they can be found as absolute constructions that are abnormal from the usual syntax structure to add information to a sentence. Absolute constructions refer to phrases that modify whole sentences and, typically, consist of a noun and a participle. In most cases, they are non-essential, meaning they can be removed without altering the meaning of the sentence. A comma before “both” is necessary when an absolute construction is used as an introductory phrase and is followed by an independent clause introduced by the word “both”.

Examples

  • The guests were gone, both began to clean up the party mess.
  • Windows open, both Sarah and Paul soak up the sun.
  • Reading their books, both Anne and Ralf forgot about the time.

Non-essential phrase

A comma before “both” is used when it appears in the middle of a sentence, introducing a parenthetical phrase that enhances the context but has no essential value for the meaning and can be left out.

Examples

  • The twins, both with blond hair, go to the same school.
  • I have, both spiritually and physically, awakened.
  • Their marriage failed, both due to mistrust and infidelity, last year.

Note that blond and blonde are two different spellings of the same word. You can follow the traditional spelling convention and use “blonde” for girls/women, and “blond” for boys/men.

Introductory dependent clause

A complex sentence is a sentence consisting of at least one dependent structure and one independent clause, often accompanied by a subordinating conjunction. The placement of a dependent clause is important to determine whether to use a comma before “both” or not. When a sentence starts with a dependent clause followed by the word “both,” a comma before the word should be used.

Examples

  • After finishing our assignment, both of us went for a walk.
  • Because the mother had to work, both of her children stayed with the father.
  • Unless I give you money, both of you can’t buy food.

Direct address or non-word filler

A comma is used before “both” when it appears at the end of a sentence, functioning as a direct address, replacing the names of addressees, or preceding a non-word filler for casual writing.

Examples

  • Thanks for your help today, both!
  • I am appalled by your disrespect and laziness, both.
  • It’s difficult to choose one, um, both.

No comma before “both”

You don’t need to use a comma before “both” when it functions as a regular pronoun, a regular determiner, or a regular adverb.

Regular pronoun

If “both” functions as a regular pronoun, meaning it reflects previously mentioned objects or people in a sentence, you don’t need to use a comma. In this case, the word “both” is a grammatically essential element of the sentence, contributing to the complete meaning.

Examples

  • My mother and father are both fearless.
  • My phone and car were cheap because both were on sale.
  • James and Franco both enjoy playing golf.

Determiner

If the word “both” is used as a regular determiner, indicating quantity, possession, or specificity, you don’t need to use a comma because it is grammatically essential for a clear context. Determiners can be possessive pronouns, demonstratives, quantifiers, or numbers. In this case, “both” functions as a quantifier.

Examples

  • Both parents wanted to solve this problem.
  • Both of my friends are very talented.
  • I drew a picture for both of my brothers.

Regular adverb

You don’t need to use a comma before “both” if it functions as a regular adverb that modifies different words in a sentence.

Examples

  • He played both tennis and golf during university.
  • She enjoys both walking and singing.
  • They passed both exams with high scores.

Test yourself!

Practice sheet

You can check your understanding of using commas before “both” by taking this test. The correct answers can be found in the second tab.

  1. Shocked by the results ____ her parents were disappointed.
  2. ____ of my brothers are fluent in Spanish.
  3. Luckily enough ____friends remained unharmed.
  4. My grandma and grandpa are ____ chronically ill.
  5. She played ____ the flute and guitar flawlessly.
  6. After eating her breakfast ____ of my sisters go to school.
  7. Because I was lucky ____ of my classes got canceled.
  8. Arabic requires ____ discipline and hard work, to be understood.
  9. Thanks for your help ____!
  10. Drinking their coffee ____ girls looked amazing.
  1. Shocked by the results, both her parents were disappointed. (Comma)
  2. Both of my brothers are fluent in Spanish. (No Comma)
  3. Luckily enough, both friends remained unharmed. (Comma)
  4. My grandma and grandpa are both chronically ill. (No Comma)
  5. She played both the flute and the guitar flawlessly. (No Comma)
  6. After eating her breakfast, both of my sisters go to school. (Comma)
  7. Because I was lucky, both of my classes got canceled. (Comma)
  8. Arabic requires, both discipline and hard work, to be understood. (Comma)
  9. Thanks for your help, both! (Comma)
  10. Drinking their coffee, both girls looked amazing. (Comma)
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FAQs

There are multiple cases where a comma before the conjunction “both” is necessary.

  • When it is following an introductory absolute construction, a comma before “both” is used.
  • When it appears as a non-essential phrase in the middle of a sentence in the form of a parenthetical phrase, enhancing the meaning of a sentence.
  • When it appears in complex sentences where the dependent clause is placed in the primary position as an introductory phrase and is followed by the word “both.”
  • When it appears at the end of a sentence in the form of a direct address in formal writing, and when it precedes a non-word filler in informal writing.

Correlative conjunctions are typically two words that function as a conjunction when combined and connect sentences. Some common correlative conjunction pairs are “both…and,” “either…or,” “neither…nor.”

When “both” is used in a sentence as a conjunction, it usually functions as a correlative pronoun. The conjunction “both” generally emphasizes the idea of “two of them” in a sentence.

Example

  • Both Martha and Stewart attended the ball.

There is no need to use a comma after “both” because it usually connects two elements of a sentence to form a complete meaning.

Example

  • They both enjoy walking in the forest and swimming in the ocean.