When To Use A Comma Before Which: A Guide

person using MacBook Pro

Share This Post

If you’re a native English speaker, you probably know that comma usage can be a tricky business. One common question is when to use a comma before which. In this article, we’ll explore the various scenarios in which a comma before which is necessary, optional, or incorrect.

What Does “Which” Mean?

Before we dive into the specific rules surrounding comma usage with “which,” it’s important to understand what the word actually means. Which” is a pronoun that is used to introduce a relative clause, which is a type of dependent clause that modifies a noun. Essentially, “which” is

When to Use a Comma Before Which

When to Use a Comma Before Which

In general, a comma before “which” is necessary when the “which” clause is nonrestrictive. This means that the information provided in the clause is not essential to the meaning of the sentence. Here are some examples:

Nonrestrictive Clauses

1. Separating Nonrestrictive Clauses

A nonrestrictive clause can be separated from the rest of the sentence by commas. This is because the clause is not essential to the meaning of the sentence.

Example:

  • My sister, who lives in New York

    2. Adding Additional Information

    Another situation where a comma before “which” is necessary is when the clause is adding additional information to the sentence.

    Example:

    • The book, which was written by my favorite author, was a bestseller.

    Here, the clause “which was written by my favorite author” is nonrestrictive because the book being discussed could still be identified without this information. The comma indicates that this is extra information, not essential to the sentence.

    3. Setting Off Parenthetical Phrases

    A comma before “which” is also necessary when it is used to set off a parenthetical phrase. This is because the phrase is not essential to the meaning of the sentence.

    Example:

    • The movie, which I saw last night, was amazing.

    Here, the clause “which I saw last night” is nonrestrictive because the movie being discussed could still be identified without this information. The comma indicates that this is extra information, not essential to the sentence.

    Restrictive Clauses

    In contrast, a comma before “which” is not necessary when the “which” clause is restrictive. This means that the information provided in the clause is essential to the meaning of the sentence. Here are some examples:

    1. Identifying a Specific Noun

    A restrictive clause is used to identify a specific noun. The noun is restricted to the specific information provided in the clause.

    Example:

    • The car that is blue is mine.

    Here, the clause “that is blue” is restrictive because it identifies which car is being referred to. Without this information, the sentence would be incomplete.

    2. Providing Essential Information

    A restrictive clause is also used to provide essential information to the sentence.

    Example:

    • The book that won the Pulitzer Prize is on my nightstand.

    Here, the clause “that won the Pulitzer Prize” is restrictive because it identifies which book is being referred to.

    Without this information, the sentence would not make sense.

    3. Clarifying a Noun

    Finally, a restrictive clause can be used to clarify a noun that might otherwise be ambiguous.

    Example:

    Here, the clause “that is on the top shelf” is restrictive because it clarifies which book the speaker is referring to. Without this information, the sentence could be interpreted in a variety of ways.

    When to Use a Comma After “Which”

    While the focus of this article is on when to use a comma before “which,” it’s worth noting that in some cases, a comma after “which” is also necessary. Here are a few situations where this might be the case:

    1. Introducing a List

    When “which” is used to introduce a list of items, a comma should follow the final item in the list.

    Example:

    • The recipe calls for flour, sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract, which are all mixed together.

    Here, the comma after “vanilla extract” is necessary to indicate the end of the list.

    2. Separating Clauses

    If “which” is used to introduce a clause that is separated from the main clause of the sentence, a comma should be used to separate the two clauses.

    Example:

    • The house, which was built in 1920, is now a museum.

    Here, the comma after “1920” separates the dependent clause introduced by “which” from the main clause of the sentence.

    3. Adding Emphasis

    A comma after “which” can be used to add emphasis to the sentence. This is a less common use of the comma and is not strictly necessary for correct grammar.

    Example:

    • I didn’t like the movie, which, Common Mistakes to Avoid

      While using a comma before “which” can be a bit tricky, there are a few common mistakes that you should try to avoid. Here are some of the most common errors to watch out for:

      1. Using a Comma with a Restrictive Clause

      One of the most common mistakes people make when using “which” is to add a comma before a restrictive clause. Remember that a restrictive clause is essential to the meaning of the sentence, and therefore should not be separated by a comma.

      Incorrect:

      • The car, which is blue, is mine.

      Correct:

      • The car that is blue is mine.

      2. Using “That” and “Which” Interchangeably

      Another common error is to use “that” and “which” interchangeably. While these words are similar in meaning, they are not interchangeable in all cases. Remember that “that” is used with restrictive clauses, while “which” is used with nonrestrictive clauses.

      Incorrect:

      • The book, that I read last night, was great.

      Correct:

      • The book, which I read last night, was great.

      3. Using a Comma with a Single Noun

      Finally, some people make the mistake of using a comma before “which” when there is only a single noun in the sentence. Remember that nonrestrictive clauses are only necessary when there is additional information that can be added to the sentence.

      Incorrect:

      • The car, which is mine, is blue.

      Correct:

      • The car that is mine is blue.

      By avoiding these common mistakes, you can improve the precision and readability of your writing. Remember to differentiate between restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses, use “that” and “which” appropriately, and avoid unnecessary commas. With practice, you’ll be able to use “which” confidently and correctly in all your sentences.

      Conclusion

      Comma usage can be a tricky business, but understanding when to use a comma before which is an important part of clear and effective writing. Remember that a comma before “which” is necessary when the “which” clause is nonrestrictive and providing additional information. If the clause is restrictive and essential to the meaning of the sentence, a comma should not be used. Additionally, remember to watch out for common mistakes like using a comma with a restrictive clause or using “that” and “which” interchangeably. With these tips in mind, you can ensure that your writing is clear, effective, and grammatically correct.

      By following these guidelines, you can avoid confusing your readers and ensure that your writing conveys the intended meaning.

      Remember that while these rules are important, they are not set in stone. In some cases, you may need to make judgment calls based on the specific context of your writing. If you’re unsure whether or not to use a comma before “which,” take a step back and consider the meaning and structure of your sentence. Ultimately, your goal should be to convey your ideas clearly and effectively, and to communicate with your audience in a way that is both informative and engaging.

      In summary, when using “which,” a comma is necessary when the clause is nonrestrictive and providing additional information. A comma should not be used when the clause is restrictive and essential to the meaning of the sentence. Additionally, you should avoid common mistakes like using a comma with a restrictive clause or using “that” and “which” interchangeably. By following these guidelines and using your best judgment, you can master the art of comma usage and improve the clarity and effectiveness of your writing.

      FAQs

      When is it appropriate to use a comma before “which”?

      A comma before “which” is necessary when the “which” clause is nonrestrictive and providing additional information.

      When is a comma not needed before “which”?

      A comma should not be used before “which” when the clause is restrictive and essential to the meaning of the sentence.

      What are some common mistakes to avoid when using “which”?

      Some common mistakes to avoid when using “which” include using a comma with a restrictive clause, using “that” and “which” interchangeably, and using a comma before “which” when there is only a single noun in the sentence.

      Is it ever Can I use a comma after “which”?

      Yes, in some cases a comma after “which” is necessary. For example, if “which” is used to introduce a list of items, a comma should follow the final item in the list. Additionally, if “which” is used to introduce a clause that is separated from the main clause of the sentence, a comma should be used to separate the two clauses. Finally, a comma after “which” can be used to add emphasis to the sentence.

      Can I use a comma before “who”?

      Yes, you can use a comma before “who” in some cases. Like “which,” “who” is used to introduce relative clauses. If the clause is nonrestrictive, a comma should be used to separate it from the rest of the sentence.

      How do I know if a clause is restrictive or nonrestrictive?

      A What are some other common punctuation mistakes to avoid?

      Other common punctuation mistakes include using commas instead of semicolons or periods to separate independent clauses, using apostrophes incorrectly, and misusing hyphens and dashes.

      Can I use an Oxford comma before “which?

      Yes, you can use an Oxford comma before “which” if it helps clarify the meaning of the sentence. The Oxford comma is used before the final item in a list, before the What are some tips for improving my comma usage?

      Some tips for improving your comma usage include reading widely to see how other writers use commas, using online grammar resources to learn more about the rules, and practicing your writing and editing skills. Additionally, asking for feedback from peers or a writing tutor can help you identify areas for improvement and refine your skills.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Get updates and learn from the best

More To Explore

DO YOU NEED WRITERS TO CREATE UNIQUE CONTENT?

drop us a line and keep in touch