Joining independent clauses
Recently, a reader noted that she often saw independent clauses joined with a coordinating conjunction and no comma. She thought such a sentence would need a comma. Today, we’ll review how to join independent clauses. As Amy Einsohn does a fantastic job of laying this out in The Copyeditor’s Handbook, I’ll briefly outline what she says (examples come from the Web or are my originals).
To join two independent clauses, you have a few punctuation choices, depending on the part of speech you use:
- Coordinating conjunction. If you use one of the coordinating conjunctions—and, but, for, nor, or, so, or yet—to join two independent clauses, use a comma before the conjunction:
Swift action saves a man’s life, but paramedics fear electric-shock victim may have suffered internal burns to organs.
- Adverb. If you use an adverb, such as however, nevertheless, or thus, use a semicolon before the adverb and a comma after:
We expect average subscription prices to stay around current levels in the near term; however, if promotional activities continue longer than expected or new content agreements adversely impact Dish, this could lower our price estimate of $25.84.
Note, however, that if you use therefore or thus and you don’t need to emphasize the following clause, you can drop the comma:
The plane took off late due to poor weather conditions; thus we arrived late.
- Transition expression. If you use an expression such as for example, similarly, indeed, or namely, use a semicolon before the adverb and a comma after:
After 45 days of no rain, the farmers were worried about their crops; indeed, it was all they thought about.
- Just punctuation. You might choose to join your independent clauses with just punctuation; in that case, use a semicolon (as this sentence does), a colon, or a dash.
Einsohn offers this summary for the rules (IND stands for independent clause):
IND, coordinate conjunction IND.
IND; adverb [,] IND.
IND; transitional expression, IND.
IND; IND. or IND: IND. or IND–IND.
Did you note the coordinating conjunctions in the first bullet point? Some say and, but, for, nor, or, so, or yet (FANBOYS) are not all equal and using a comma before them is not always right. Check out Ben Zimmer’s “Of Fanboys and FANBOYS” and Brett Reynolds’s “The myth of FANBOYS” for more details. Then share what you think in the comment section below.
Editor’s note: The Tip will not publish next week, November 23. We will be back on November 30. Happy Thanksgiving!
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