Q: I’ve managed to get myself into a debate with my girlfriend that is now running to two weeks and threatening our relationship. The question is whether or not one should use a comma before the word “too” at the end of a sentence—e.g., “Steve likes chocolate ice cream too.” The Chicago Manual of Style says you shouldn’t, but my girlfriend has found a website that says you should. I’m no grammarian, but I’d appreciate something approaching a definitive answer. Can you help?
A: In the universe of yeses and noes, this is a maybe (which explains why two intelligent people can disagree about it). There’s no grammatical rule that says you must use a comma with “too” in the kind of sentence you describe. It’s largely optional, and depends on the inflection the writer intends. In the case of “too,” use a comma if you intend to emphasize a pause.
Take your example: “Steve likes chocolate ice cream too.” Context might call for a comma or it might not. If Grandma has just given Steve’s pushy little brother Sam a scoop of ice cream, and their mother wants to suggest that shy little Steve should get the same, she might say, “Steve likes chocolate ice cream, too.” (With a little lilt at the end, emphasizing the “too.”)
But if Mom is just describing a catalog of the stuff that Steve likes, and has already mentioned, say, vanilla ice cream, she might say, “Steve likes chocolate ice cream too.” (No particular inflection there.) It’s often a judgment call.
Sorry this isn’t more definitive, and I hope it hasn’t muddied the waters!