Monday, December 31, 2007

Connecting Independent Clauses: Commas Versus Semicolons

Conjunctions are those useful little words that link together parts of your sentence. They tell your readers the relationship between two things, be they clauses or single words.

Some conjunctions require the use of a comma. I have already written about the Oxford comma, that oft-maligned comma at the end of a list, but there are other guidelines for using commas and conjunctions together.

Independent clauses (those that could stand on their own as a sentence) require either a coodinating conjunction or an independent marker word to join them to another independent clause. The former are the FANBOYS—for, and, nor, but, or, ye, and so—and the latter are words like moreover, further or furthermore, and however.

Independent marker conjunctions are used at the beginning of an independent clause, hence the name. You use them to “mark” the clause as stand-alone and to indicate the relationship to the other clause(s) in the sentence. “I could have danced all night; however, my feet were killing me.” You join two such clauses with a semi-colon.

Coordinating conjunctions demand only a comma. “I would have danced all night, but my toes were pinched after half an hour.”

When writing for the web, shorter sentences work better. Unless your independent clauses are so closely related or so short that separating them weakens your piece, split them up. If you can't, or would prefer not, to do so, make sure you use the correct punctuation for your conjunction.

Sometime in the next week I'll address conjunctions and dependent clauses. I know, you're all atwitter, but good things come to those who wait. Happy New Year!