Comma Before or After So | Rules & Examples

When using the conjunction “so” to connect two clauses, you can tell whether to add a comma before it with a simple trick:

  • When “so” could be replaced with “therefore,” use a comma before “so.”
  • When “so” could be replaced by “so that,” don’t add a comma.
Examples of when to use a comma before “so”
“So” meaning “therefore” (comma) “So” meaning “so that” (no comma)
I was hungry, so I ate some chips. Maria is saving up so she can move out.
I was hungry. Therefore, I ate some chips. Maria is saving up so that she can move out.
Note
“So” also has a variety of other uses in which it isn’t classed as a conjunction but instead as an adverb or another part of speech. In these uses, there’s generally no comma needed (e.g., “I think so,” “there’s only so much time,” “say it’s not so”).

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“So” meaning “therefore”: Use a comma

When “so” is used to mean “therefore” (or “for that reason” or “because of that”), it’s classed as a coordinating conjunction connecting two independent clauses. When coordinating conjunctions (e.g., “so,” “and”) connect independent clauses, a comma is always needed.

If you’re not sure whether “so” is functioning in this way, try replacing it with “therefore” and “so that” to see which one better fits your meaning. For example, consider the sentence “He told me to let you know, so I’m passing on the message.”

Replacing “so” with “so that” results in a sentence that doesn’t really make sense:

  • He told me to let you know so that I’m passing on the message.

But replacing “so” with “therefore” conveys the meaning correctly (though with a more formal tone):

  • He told me to let you know. Therefore, I’m passing on the message.

Based on this, we can conclude that “so” is functioning as a coordinating conjunction and that we need the comma before it.

Note
You can also read more about using commas with other coordinating conjunctions: commas before or after “and,” commas before or after “but,” and commas before “or.”

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“So” meaning “so that”: No comma

When “so” is used as a synonym of “so that” (or “in order that”) it’s instead classed as a subordinating conjunction. A subordinating conjunction connects an independent clause with a dependent clause (a clause that can’t stand on its own as a complete sentence).

When it’s used in this way, there should be no comma before “so.” Again, a good test is to try replacing “so” with “therefore” and “so that” to see which one matches your intended meaning. For example, take the sentence “I ducked so I could pass under the branches.”

Replacing “so” with “therefore” results in a statement that makes sense but is unlikely to be the intended meaning:

  • I ducked. Therefore, I could pass under the branches.

Using “so that” instead results in a statement that matches the original in meaning:

  • I ducked so that I could pass under the branches.

Therefore, “so” is functioning as a subordinating conjunction, and no comma is needed. Note that it’s normally better to write “so that” in full in academic writing—both because it removes potential ambiguity and because it’s considered more formal.

Note
You can also read more about using commas with other subordinating conjunctions: commas before “because” and commas before “as well as.”

Is there ever a comma after “so”?

There’s normally no need for a comma after “so,” whether it’s used as a coordinating or subordinating conjunction. Like other conjunctions, it’s just immediately followed by the clause it introduces.

Many people add a comma after “so” when it appears at the start of a sentence. This is not necessary when “so” functions as a conjunction; it’s better to leave out the comma:

  • I needed some milk. So, I ran down to the store.
  • I needed some milk. So I ran down to the store.

When “so” is used as a meaningless interjection, as is common in everyday speech, you can add a comma or not, depending on whether there’s a natural pause at that point in the sentence:

  • So, what do you think?
  • So I’m going to head out now.

Note that you shouldn’t use “so” like this in academic writing, as it’s informal and doesn’t convey any clear meaning.

One other context where a comma may be needed after “so” is when it’s immediately followed by an interrupter: a phrase that interrupts the flow of the sentence to qualify or emphasize something. Interrupters are surrounded by commas.

Examples: Comma after “so” followed by an interrupter
So, admittedly, the results are inconclusive.

I’m pretty tired, so, if you don’t mind, I’m going to bed.

Worksheet: Comma before or after “so”

Test your knowledge of when you need a comma before or after “so” by completing the worksheet below. Just add commas wherever you think they’re needed to the example sentences, and then check them against the answers provided.

  1. John forgot his umbrella so he was drenched by the time he got to the office.
  2. The lazy boy faked illness so he wouldn’t have to go to school.
  3. Questions were phrased in a neutral way so that participants wouldn’t be encouraged to give a particular answer.
  4. We don’t have much money left for this month. So we have to spend carefully.
  5. The band hasn’t toured or released anything for years so for all intents and purposes they’ve broken up.
  1. John forgot his umbrella, so he was drenched by the time he got to the office.
    • Here, “so” functions as a coordinating conjunction joining two independent clauses, so you need a comma before it. You can tell because “so” could logically be replaced by “therefore” but not by “so that” (which would suggest that John deliberately forgot his umbrella).
  1. The lazy boy faked illness so he wouldn’t have to go to school.
    • Here, “so” functions as a subordinating conjunction, so no comma is required. You can tell because it could logically be replaced by “so that” but not by “therefore.” “So” introduces the boy’s motivation for faking illness, not the results of his doing so.
  1. Questions were phrased in a neutral way so that participants wouldn’t be encouraged to give a particular answer.
    • Here, the full phrase “so that” is used. As with “so” used individually with this meaning, there’s no comma needed. Writing out “so that” in full is a better option in academic writing, as it’s more formal.
  1. We don’t have much money left for this month. So we have to spend carefully.
    • Here, “so” again functions as a coordinating conjunction. You don’t need to add a comma after a coordinating conjunction even when it introduces a new sentence.
  1. The band hasn’t toured or released anything for years, so, for all intents and purposes, they’ve broken up.
    • “So” here is again a coordinating conjunction meaning “therefore,” so it is preceded by a comma. The interrupter “for all intents and purposes” also needs to be surrounded by commas.

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    Other interesting language articles

    If you want to know more about commonly confused words, definitions, common mistakes, and differences between US and UK spellings, make sure to check out some of our other language articles with explanations, examples, and quizzes.

    Sources in this article

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    This Scribbr article

    Caulfield, J. (2023, March 18). Comma Before or After So | Rules & Examples. Scribbr. Retrieved May 20, 2024, from https://www.scribbr.com/commas/comma-before-or-after-so/

    Sources

    Butterfield, J. (Ed.). (2015). Fowler’s dictionary of modern English usage (4th ed.). Oxford University Press.

    Garner, B. A. (2016). Garner’s modern English usage (4th ed.). Oxford University Press.

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    Jack Caulfield

    Jack is a Brit based in Amsterdam, with an MA in comparative literature. He writes for Scribbr about his specialist topics: grammar, linguistics, citations, and plagiarism. In his spare time, he reads a lot of books.