Rule 1: It is necessary to put a comma before “if” when it comes at the start of a non-essential element.
- Correct: Before the game, if we have time, we should get some food.
- Incorrect: Before the game if we have time we should get some food.
Rule 2: Put a comma before the “if” clause when it follows an introductory clause or word.
- Correct: As we told you, if you want to go out, you must do your homework.
- Incorrect: As you were told if you want to go out you must do your homework.
Rule 3: You should always put a comma before the “if” clause when it follows transition words or phrases in the middle of a sentence.
- Correct: You need to perform better; for example, if you arrived on time, that would help.
- Incorrect: You need to perform better; for example if you arrived on time, that would help.
Rule 4: Do not use a comma before “if” when it starts a dependent clause.
- Correct: I would not be here right now if I hadn’t worked hard.
- Incorrect: I would not be here right now, if I hadn’t worked hard.
In the rest of the article, you will discover more examples and exceptions regarding commas and the word “if.”
When to Use a Comma Before “If”
When you need to decide when to use a comma before “if,” you should refer to Rules 1, 2, and 3.
Rule 1: Use a comma before “if” when it is the first word in a non-defining term.
If a term is non-defining, it is not necessary for the sentence to make sense.
Here are examples of sentences where this is the case:
- Would you please, if possible, try to speak rather than shout.
- I will be available to help you, if needed, all day.
- She’s one of the best musicians in the city, if not the country, for classical guitar.
Rule 2: Use a comma before “if when it follows an introductory word or phrase.
These types of words are always followed by commas, and this rule doesn’t just apply to “if.”
Here are some example sentences:
- As the notice says, if you don’t have a ticket, you can’t come in.
- As we were saying, if you are interested in participating, please leave your name and email.
- In summary, if you wish to join the club, please fill out the membership form.
Rule 3: Use a comma before “if” when it follows a non-essential phrase in the middle of a sentence.
Some common non-essential words and phrases include “for example” and “that is,” amongst others.
Feel free to review these example sentences of “if” being used in this context:
- You have to try everything, within reason, if you are going to succeed.
- The night was a disaster; that is, if you imagine the worst night ever, you are not even close.
- The painting is exquisite, to say the least, if you appreciate abstract art.
When to Avoid a Comma Before “If”
This section explains when you need to put a comma before “if.”
Rule 4: You shouldn’t use a comma before “if” when it appears at the start of a dependent clause.
A dependent clause makes no sense without the first part of the sentence.
When “if” connects the dependent clause to the first clause, no comma is necessary.
Here are some examples to show you what we mean:
- We wouldn’t be lost right now if you had looked at the map before we set off.
- She would be here if I had chosen the guests.
- You’ll feel better if you take some rest.
- The movie will start on time if everyone arrives promptly.
- I’ll buy the tickets if you bring the snacks.
The sentences above are “conditionals.” When in this word order, they do not use a comma. However, if you reverse the “if” clause and the result clause, you need to put a comma.
These examples should help you understand it:
- If you had looked at the map before we set off, we wouldn’t be lost right now.
- If I had chosen the guests, she would be here.
- If you take some rest, you’ll feel better.
- If everyone arrives promptly, the movie will start on time.
- If you bring the snacks, I’ll buy the tickets.
Always use a comma when “if” starts or follows a parenthetical word or phrase. Also, following introductory terms, you should use a comma before “if.” However, do not use a comma when “if” starts a dependent clause in the middle of a sentence.