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Connecting Sentences with Commas and Semicolons

Many of you have been asking for help with punctuating between clauses and phrases within sentences. You want to know when you should use a comma and when you need a semicolon. Here are a few rules with examples that I hope you find very helpful.

Commas

Rule: Use a comma between two independent clauses when conjunctions such as and, or, but, for, nor connect them.

Example: I have painted the entire house, but she is still working on sanding the floors.

Rule: If the clauses are short (your call), then leave out the comma.

Example: I painted and he sanded.

Rule: If you have only one clause (one subject and verb pair), you generally won’t need a comma in front of the conjunction.

Example: I have painted the house but still need to sand the floors.
This sentence has two verbs but only one subject, so it has only one clause.

 

Semicolons

So when does the semicolon get to have its time in the spotlight?

Rule: Use the semicolon if you have two independent clauses you are connecting without a conjunction.

Example: I have painted the house; I still need to sand the floors.

Rule: Also, use the semicolon when you have commas for smaller separations, and you need the semicolon to show a bigger separation.

Example: We had a reunion with family from Salt Lake City, Utah; Los Angeles, California; and Albany, New York.

 

Pop Quiz
Select the correctly punctuated sentence.

1a. I attend the fashion shows and my husband goes to the jazz clubs.
1b. I attend the fashion shows, and my husband goes to the jazz clubs.
1c. I attend the fashion shows; and my husband goes to the jazz clubs.

2a. I love fashion and he loves jazz.
2b. I love fashion, and he loves jazz.
2c. I love fashion; and he loves jazz.

3a. I attend the fashion shows but not the jazz clubs.
3b. I attend the fashion shows, but not the jazz clubs.
3c. I attend the fashion shows; but not the jazz clubs.

4a. I attend the fashion shows my husband goes to the jazz clubs.
4b. I attend the fashion shows, my husband goes to the jazz clubs.
4c. I attend the fashion shows; my husband goes to the jazz clubs.

5a. I buy cheese, milk, and eggs at my neighborhood market apples, oranges, and grapes from the farmers’ market and aspirin, shaving cream, and deodorant from the pharmacy.
5b. I buy cheese, milk, and eggs at my neighborhood market, apples, oranges, and grapes from the farmers’ market, and aspirin, shaving cream, and deodorant from the pharmacy.
5c. I buy cheese, milk, and eggs at my neighborhood market; apples, oranges, and grapes from the farmers’ market; and aspirin, shaving cream, and deodorant from the pharmacy.

 

Pop Quiz Answers

1b. I attend the fashion shows, and my husband goes to the jazz clubs.

2a. I love fashion and he loves jazz.

3a. I attend the fashion shows but not the jazz clubs.

4c. I attend the fashion shows; my husband goes to the jazz clubs.

5c. I buy cheese, milk, and eggs at my neighborhood market; apples, oranges, and grapes from the farmers’ market; and aspirin, shaving cream, and deodorant from the pharmacy.

Posted on Saturday, January 5, 2008, at 9:30 pm


16 Comments

16 Responses to “Connecting Sentences with Commas and Semicolons”

  1. ravi bedi says:

    We had a reunion with family: from Salt Lake City, Utah; Los Angeles, California; and Albany, New York.

    Would this work?

  2. Jane says:

    You cannot use a colon in the middle of a sentence. Colons are used after sentences to introduce lists that do not have conjunctions preceding them.

  3. Buddy says:

    Are there other coordinating conjunctions besides the ones listed above?

    Also, how do you italicize words on here?

  4. Buddy says:

    I asked because words like “as,” “so,” and “then” seem to function as if they are coordinating conjunctions too.

    • Jane says:

      You can consider these as connecting words even if they are not usually acting as coordinating conjunctions. For example, then and so usually act as adverbs.

  5. william says:

    I want to know if this would be correct.

    Employers’ Organizations: Who they are? What they do? and How they do it?

  6. Jane says:

    To follow your colon with questions, you should change the wording: Who are they? What do they do? How do they do it?
    If you don’t want questions because this is a title, then use the following: Who they are, what they do, and how they do it.

  7. Becky says:

    I am having a problem with the following sentence:
    1. I moved closer to the wall, hoping my sister wouldn’t hear me.

    Is there a comma after wall?

    2. He was playing and unfortunately fell.

    I have used a rather short sentence here, but my problem is when a conjunction is used to join a clause (which doesn’t have a subject), and there is a paranthetical clause that immediately follows it where does the comma go. Is it:

    He was playing and unfortunately, fell.
    Or
    He was playing and, unfortunately, fell.

    I have several long sentences where the and doesn’t need a comma but there is a paranthetical clause that follows immediately and needs a comma.

    Thank you so much for your response!

    • Jane says:

      According to Rule 9, you should not use a comma when the sentence starts with a strong clause followed by a weak clause.

      I moved closer to the wall hoping my sister wouldn’t hear me.

      Rule 8 states that you should use commas to set off expressions that interrupt sentence flow.

      He was playing and, unfortunately, fell. OR
      Unfortunately, he fell while he was playing.

  8. Inq says:

    How many independent clauses can be joined by conjunctions, semicolons, and the like? Could a single compound sentence rage on and on with appropriate or proper links and/or conjunctions?

    • Jane says:

      There is no rule limiting the number of independent clauses in a single sentence, however, the reader’s ability to comprehend the sentence will certainly decrease if a compound sentence “rages on and on,” even if the conjunctions and punctuation are correct.

  9. Nancy says:

    He was the last supervisor to whom you reported; is that correct?

    Semi colon before is that correct or comma?

  10. Claudette says:

    When using the word “however” in a sentence, does it always have a comma to follow?

    • Jane says:

      Both Rule 20 in our “Commas” section as well as Rule 2 in our “Semicolons” section recommends commas after the word however when used as an interrupter or as an introductory word, respectively. Note that I did not use a comma nor did you use a comma after the word in our sentences because however was not used either as an interrupter or as an introductory word.

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