Here we go with Part 2 of the series “Punctuation Saves Lives.” In this article, we’re exploring the second of four common uses of the comma–between two complete sentences (independent clauses) with a coordinating conjunction. I know, you understand what a complete sentence is, but you may not be so sure of how to explain an independent clause, and you’re definitely fuzzy about what a coordinating conjunction is.
A coordinating conjunction joins (the “conjunction” part of the term) two independent clauses that are of equal value in importance (the “coordinating” part of the term) into one sentence. The list of coordinating conjunctions is relatively short—there are only seven (7)—, and this simple acronym will help you remember them:
FANBOYS—[F]or, [A]nd, [N]or,[B]ut, [O]r, [Y]et, [S]o.
Picture a young teenage male who is obsessed with the latest pop singer!
Keep in mind, when we combine two independent clauses into one sentence with a coordinating conjunction, the coordinating conjunction MUST be preceded by a comma.
Example: I like to eat at a restaurant whenever possible, but I can’t afford it very often.
Example: The life of a teacher is full of satisfaction, yet it can be an exhausting life.
Notice that the two previous examples use coordinating conjunctions that express contrast between the two parts of the new sentence. Other coordinating conjunctions indicate addition (and), limitation (or), negation (nor), and consequence (for/so).
Example: I always use a bookmark to find my place in a book, and I never turn down the corner of the page.
Example: Pick up your toys immediately, or you won’t be going outside to play.
Example: Gerald usually doesn’t eat garden peas with his fish, nor does he eat mushy peas.
Example: I’m going to march with the protesters, for I believe in their cause.
Example: The trip to the lake is a 12-hour drive, so we’ll need to allow two days for the trip.
What’s important is that you recognize how words are working in a sentence, even when you can’t identify their jobs with appropriate labels. And it’s just as important to recognize the way punctuation helps your writing sparkle with clarity.
I hope you’ll join me next time for another common use of a comma—after an introductory phrase or dependent clause. Punctuation might not seem very important to you right now, but getting it right can make a powerful difference in your writing.