Comma Before While | Rules & Examples

The word ‘while’ has a couple of different meanings. Depending on which meaning you intend, you may or may not need a comma before ‘while’.

If you’re using ‘while’ to mean ‘during the time that’, you don’t need a comma.

Example: ‘While’ meaning ‘during the time that’
Please don’t distract me while I’m working.

If you’re using ‘while’ to mean ‘although’ or ‘whereas’, you need a comma.

Example: ‘While’ meaning ‘whereas’
Some people enjoy travelling, while others prefer to stay home.
Note
Similar rules apply to other subordinating conjunctions: commas before ‘because’ and commas before ‘as well as’.

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‘While’ meaning ‘during the time that’: No comma

‘While’ is often used to mean ‘during the time that’ or ‘when’ in other words, to indicate that two things are happening simultaneously. When used in this way, there’s no comma before ‘while’. Adding a comma is incorrect in this context.

Examples: No comma before ‘while’
Make sure to strike while the iron is hot!

She must have left while I was upstairs.

It was while we were at university that we first met.

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‘While’ meaning ‘whereas’: Comma before ‘while’

‘While’ is also used to mean ‘whereas’ or ‘although’ – to contrast one statement with another. When this is what you mean, add a comma before ‘while’. Leaving out the comma is wrong and will suggest to the reader that you’re using ‘while’ in the other sense.

Examples: Comma before ‘while’
Dogs often seek attention from their owners, while cats are generally more independent.

Priya seemed to excel at her work, while Steinar struggled with his new responsibilities.

Fewer people are studying the humanities nowadays, while enrollments in the sciences are on the rise.

‘While’ at the start of a sentence

When the ‘while’ clause appears at the start of the sentence, there should be a comma at the end of the clause (not next to the word ‘while’ itself). This applies regardless of whether ‘while’ is used to mean ‘during the time that’ or ‘whereas’. This comma should always be added.

Example: ‘While’ at the start of a sentence
While few would claim that it’s a world-class city, the town certainly has its charms.

While you were at work, I looked up hotels for our vacation trip.

While it’s not impossible that you’re right, I don’t think your hypothesis is very likely.

Is there ever a comma after ‘while’?

There’s usually no reason to put a comma after ‘while’, regardless of the sense you’re using it in. By default, don’t add one:

  • I’m a big fan of sushi, while, my boyfriend prefers Italian food.

The only time you need a comma after ‘while’ is when it’s immediately followed by an interrupter: a phrase that interrupts the sentence to add some sort of emphasis or qualification to the statement. An interrupter is always surrounded by commas.

Example: Comma after ‘while’
While, no doubt, we have a lot to gain from this initiative, it’s also a big risk.

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Worksheet: Comma before or after ‘while’

If you want to test your understanding of how to use commas with ‘while’, try completing the worksheet below. Just add commas to the sentences wherever you think they’re needed (or add no commas if they aren’t needed).

  1. We can watch a movie while we wait for the food to arrive.
  2. While he may be talented he doesn’t take his work seriously.
  3. While you were out somebody came by and asked after you.
  4. I’m quite obsessive about cleanliness while my girlfriend can be a bit messy.
  5. There is a wealth of anecdotal evidence for this trend while admittedly little hard data is available.
  1. We can watch a movie while we wait for the food to arrive.
  1. While he may be talented, he doesn’t take his work seriously.
    • Because the ‘while’ clause comes first, a comma is included at the end of it, after ‘talented’.
  1. While you were out, somebody came by and asked after you.
    • Again, the ‘while’ clause comes first, so a comma separates it from the following clause.
  1. I’m quite obsessive about cleanliness, while my girlfriend can be a bit messy.
    • In this sentence, ‘while’ is used to mean ‘whereas’ (i.e., to introduce a contrast between two statements). Because of this, there’s a comma before ‘while’.
  1. There is a wealth of anecdotal evidence for this trend, while, admittedly, little hard data is available.
    • Again, ‘while’ introduces a contrast, so it’s preceded by a comma. In this case it’s also followed by the interrupter ‘undoubtedly’, which qualifies the statement being made. The interrupter also needs to be surrounded by commas.

    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 for this article

    We strongly encourage students to use sources in their work. You can cite our article (APA Style) or take a deep dive into the articles below.

    This Scribbr article

    Caulfield, J. (2023, March 08). Comma Before While | Rules & Examples. Scribbr. Retrieved 10 July 2024, from https://www.scribbr.co.uk/comma/comma-with-while/

    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.