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 we hope you find helpful.

Commas

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

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

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

Example: I painted and Terrell 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; Terrell still needs 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. [Also acceptable: 2b. 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 Tuesday, June 30, 2020, at 11:00 pm

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7 Comments on Connecting Sentences with Commas and Semicolons

7 responses to “Connecting Sentences with Commas and Semicolons”

  1. Reymin C. says:

    Thank you for this lesson; I appreciate it!

  2. Casey says:

    What is the correct form of showing possession for the word “accused”? Is it accused’ or accused’s?

  3. T.J. Neal says:

    Thank you for covering this.

    Some guides, particularly those for professional transcriptionists, recommend no comma between clauses if there are five words or less.

    This is right in line with what I learned in college and continuing education; it is also forth in the guidelines of professional organizations. And yet proofreaders will badger transcriptionists over this and other grammar rules and arbitrarily change transcripts to be inaccurate before sending to clients.

  4. Toby says:

    Is the lack of a comma in 1a totally incorrect? If I read it, it wouldn’t pop out to me as an egregious error. That being said, I’ve become quite comma-averse these days.

    • We suppose there might be worse punctuation errors, but it is still an error except when the independent clauses are short. There is a trend toward fewer commas in certain cases. One example is omitting the comma following short introductory phrases of three words or less, for example When in town we go shopping. (See our Rule 4a of Commas.)

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