Common Comma Conundrums 1: Coordinating Conjunctions and Conjunctive Adverbs

With Coordinating Conjunctions

A coordinating conjunction is a connecting word. These words are used to connect independent clauses, lists, and more. These words are:

For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So

If you cleverly look above, you can also notice that these can be remembered using the pneumonic FANBOYS. For independent clauses combined using a coordinating conjunction, a comma is necessary. For example:

Correct: Josie finished her test, and she ate it.
Incorrect: Josie finished her test and she ate it.

Since “Josie finished her test” and “she ate it” are both full sentences on their own, they are called independent clauses. We use coordinating conjunctions to combine two independent clauses without making them into two separate sentences.

However, this rule can get tricky if the two clauses are not independent.  Let’s use the sentence example above but change it a bit.

Incorrect: Josie finished her test, and ate it.
Correct: Josie finished her test and ate it.

Since the second part of the sentence is “ate it,” it’s not independent.  It cannot stand on its own as a full sentence.  As such, it should not have a comma in front of it if the coordinating conjunction is used.  Two full sentences smashed together need both comma AND conjunction, but a sentence and a dependent clause need a conjunction OR a comma.

Conjunctive Adverbs

Conjunctive adverbs are words such as ‘however,’ ‘therefore,’ and ‘meanwhile.’ These cause confusion mostly because they aren’t handled the same way as the coordinating conjunctions.  When choosing which method of sentence construction to use, remember that the above suggestions only apply to the FANBOYS, but almost everything else should follow the semicolon and conjunctive adverb format.

Correct: Josie finished her test; therefore she became bored and ate it.
Incorrect: Josie finished her test, therefore she became bored and ate it.
Incorrect: Josie finished her test therefore she became bored and ate it.

Since the conjunctive adverb almost acts as the beginning of a new sentence, you need some strong punctuation, something stronger than a comma, at least. This calls for either a period and the beginning of a new sentence or a semicolon. In my opinion, the semicolon form isn’t one that you want to use often. I suggest using semicolons sparingly enough that they don’t jump out to the reader or interrupt the prose, but I also realize this is something of a matter of taste, something that others disagree with vehemently. Do as you see fit.

A Quick Thank You to Josie

I haven’t seen this woman in many years, but I would like to give a quick thank you to Josie who really did eat part of a standardized test she took in high school. It had been done as a bet that she couldn’t eat a part of her test without using her hands to hold the paper and get away with it. This one’s to you, Josie.

Other Articles in the Series

Conundrums 2 – Parentheticals
Conundrums 3 – Multiple Adjectives

4 thoughts on “Common Comma Conundrums 1: Coordinating Conjunctions and Conjunctive Adverbs

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