From the NYT editorial “Reforming the Financial System” (September 14): a first paragraph ending:

He should take justifiable pride in some of the aggressive steps his administration has taken to rescue the financial system and the broader economy.

and a second paragraph beginning:

Yet, the important work of regulatory reform remains undone.

The point of interest is the comma after sentence-initial yet.

Sentence-initial yet is not the issue. Pretty much all reputable usage handbooks reassure their readers that, despite whatever they might have been taught in school, there is nothing wrong with beginning a sentence with and, or, but, or yet. In fact, sentences beginning this way can be very effective, especially at the beginning of a paragraph, as in the NYT editorial.

But many handbooks do caution against following such an initial coordinator with a comma (unless the comma marks off some interruptive material). Sentence-initial but is a special target of this criticism. MWDEU:

The only generally expressed warning [about sentence-initial but] is not to follow the but with a comma…

The argument is that the force of the but is weakened by the unneeded comma. Such commas are rare in the materials in our files.

My impression is that the commas are rare for the other coordinators as well, including yet.

But you can see why a writer might occasionally want a comma, to convey a short pause and to throw some emphasis onto the coordinator. I don’t see why people should insist that such commas be avoided. Omit Needless Punctuation, maybe?

3 Responses to “Yet,”

  1. Usual John Says:

    Many years ago, when I was an editor at a law review (an amateur position, as all law review editorial positions are), I told one of our writers that sentence-initial but should not be followed by a comma. He asked if I also objected to a comma after sentence-initial however. While I do not necessarily now disagree with what Arnold says above, I thought, and still think, that the cases of but and however are different. However, I’ve never been able satisfactorily to say why.

  2. arnoldzwicky Says:

    To Usual John: but and however are very different, and I’ve written a number of times about the differences. Here’s one Language Log posting, with some links.

    Yet and however are also very different.

  3. But, « Arnold Zwicky’s Blog Says:

    […] By arnoldzwicky Last time it was sentence-initial yet followed by a comma, in a New York Times editorial. This time […]

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