The Although-Comma

Although, many of his photos are geological . . .
Wikipedia entry on John Tuzo Wilson
(pre-edited version)

“Although what?” I wonder. Is this an incomplete segue from the previous sentence? A glance back confirms my impression: No.

I think I know what’s happening here, but I scan ahead to be sure.

Although, many of his photos are geological — details of rocks and their structures or panoramas of large formations — the bulk of his photos are of the places, activities, and people that he saw on his travels.

Sigh. Yes, “although” goes with the first part of the sentence: the part from which it is separated (Oh, the horror) by a comma. Here we have the domesticated Although-Comma, its wild origins lost in the mists of time.

Or maybe not.

“Write the way you talk” is oft-quoted (albeit controversial) advice for new writers, and the Although-Comma may indeed arise from conversation.

“All insects should be killed,” he opined, having just lost most of his right ear to black flies. “Although . . . (Ed’s note: Thoughtful pause here) maybe we should keep a few of them. Like the ones that birds eat.”

Perfectly understandable, linking what was just said to what is to come. Communicating some uncertainty, some qualifier, some second thought mayhap.

But if writers thoughtlessly start by using a comma after “although” to indicate a thoughtful pause, too many finish by thinking a comma is always indicated. Instead of, you know, never.

Although, it’s just speculation, it makes sense to me. Although, there’s a plausible reason, there isn’t any dagnabbed excuse. Although, this usage grates on my mind’s ear, the worse outcome is that it disrupts sentence flow, derailing the reader.

And although, it’s a minor point, it’s easy to fix.

Please join my campaign to eradicate the Although-Comma. You won’t become rich or famous–at least not through your participation–but I’ll feel so much better.








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18 Responses to The Although-Comma

  1. Marion says:

    I’ll feel better as well. I’m a relatively fast reader and I find it irritating when my flow is broken by a comma that’s in the wrong place at the wrong time/timing. As you say, derailing the reader.

  2. Tom Watson says:

    I’m with ya, Isabel, although I wonder if there’s ever an instance when you would use “although” followed by a comma? I can’t construct one just now but just wondered so I looked on the internet.

    One site says it’s appropriate only in screen plays. says
    “2. Use commas after introductory a) clauses, b) phrases, or c) words that come before the main clause. … Common starter words for introductory clauses that should be followed by a comma include after, although, as, because, if, since, when, while.”

    Interesting subject.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Tom – I might use it in dialogue, but would be more inclined to follow it with an ellipsis (. . .) which I use (p’raps incorrectly) to indicate a substantial pause (as well as missing words, in other contexts). I can’t think of any other use for the Although-Comma.

  3. Laurna Tallman says:

    Count me in, Isabel. This construction should be consigned to oblivion. I will take a fresh look at how often I need “although,” too.

  4. John Whitman says:

    Isabel – “Write the way you talk” sounds good in theory, but not so much for me when I try to spell words using my Maritime draaawll.
    John W

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      John – Ah. Another take on the advice: spelling instead of structure and word choice. I guess that’s right, too. I remember seeing “inshore” in an Easterner’s document – just spelling “en/insure” the way he said it.

  5. Jim Taylor says:

    And then there’s Microsoft Word, whose spelling and grammar checking has been trained to consider any connective word at the beginning of a sentence as needing a comma after it. So, however, although, but — all get little error lines underneath them, telling the author that Microsoft knows better.
    Hmmm… Maybe I should sell that motto to Bill Gates and Co. Great marketing line, don’t you think? “Microsoft knows better.”
    Jim T

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim – Now I remember why I have “grammar checking” turned off. I’m OK to make my own mistakes, but as the real-live writer I detest having Word second-guess me.

  6. Ian Hepher says:

    I’m with you, Isabel, all the way. Commas can be troublesome, as demonstrated by the book “Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, by Lynn Truss, the title being described in a Wikipedia article as a ” …a syntactic ambiguity‍—‌a verbal fallacy arising from an ambiguous grammatical construction‍.” That’s in itself a delightful description. Apparently the title is derived from a joke about bad punctuation:
    A panda walks into a café. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and proceeds to fire it at the other patrons.
    “Why?” asks the confused, surviving waiter amidst the carnage, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.
    “Well, I’m a panda,” he says. “Look it up.”
    The waiter turns to the relevant entry in the manual and, sure enough, finds an explanation. “Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.”

    I’ve said enough on that subject. Do you plan to address the controversial question of how many spaces should appear after a period?

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Ian – OK, we have enough folks onboard now to set up a secret organization (Knights Templar? Freemasons?) to eradicate the Although-Comma. Excellent. How hard can it be? (And I agree with you about Lynn Truss’s book – excellent and funny.)

  7. Judith Umbach says:

    Perhaps you should go on to discuss the prevalence of dashes. In your original irritating quote, the author, having used a comma in the wrong place, must use dashes where commas should be.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Judith – Maybe I’ll leave that crusade to someone more qualified. I suspect I use dashes just for the heck of it, rather than with any rule in mind.

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