English language Uncategorized

When is a comma too much?

Q: I’m always delighted when you’re on WNYC. You’re such fun! And I learn so much, too. Which brings me to my question. I’m completely confused about when “too” should be preceded by a comma. For example, was it correct in my sentence above? What is the rule?

A: I usually tell people that a comma with “too” is optional: use one if you want to express a pause or emphasize something. In the sentence you asked about, I think the comma is right.

Although the presence or absence of a comma often doesn’t matter, it sometimes does make a difference. For example, both of these sentences may be punctuated correctly, depending on the emphasis:

a. “Steve likes ice cream, too.”
b. “Steve likes ice cream too.”

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 Steve likes, and she 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!

Note: I just realized that I answered a similar question last year. If anyone wants to compare the two replies, here’s a link to the old item.

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