Commas: Coordinating Conjunctions (Part 1)

CommaGosh, so many people have asked me to do commas. I haven’t because–well, frankly–I didn’t know where to start. I’ve decided to come up with the top two or three common questions and problems and make a post about them.

Coordinating Conjunctions

Let’s talk about conjunctions for a minute. Conjunctions are words that hook together words, phrases and clauses (yes I know the School House Rock song, but they’re right). There are many types of conjunctions, but we’ll be looking at “coordinating” conjunctions. To remember what coordinating conjunctions are, remember FANBOYS: For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So. The examples I use today work with coordinating conjunctions. I’ll do a separate post for commas with adverbial conjunctions.

The Serial Comma

Yup, some commas have certain names. The serial comma is used when you’re listing things. For example:

I like apples, grapes, and oranges.

See the comma before the and? That’s the serial comma. IT IS NOT NECESSARY. It’s something frequently debated by scholars because some believe it makes things more confusing, while others think it prevents confusion. As such, there’s no real rule for it. My rule is: Use common sense. If you have a sentence like this:

I have two cats, Mishka and Felicity.

It’s very different than:

I have two cats, Mishka, and Felicity.

It makes it seem like Mishka and Felicity are two different pets outside of the two cats. In this case, you don’t want to use the serial comma, because it creates confusion. So while there’s no defined rule for using a serial comma, like I said–use common sense.

Commas with independent clauses

Ok, so I’ve probably gone over independent clauses before, but I’ll do it again. An independent clause is a complete sentence on its own. A dependent clause is an incomplete sentence that is attached to an independent sentence. So let’s look at some clauses.

I have two cats. They are named Mishka and Felicity.

These are two complete sentences. There are many ways to connect these sentences, but let’s connect them with a coordinating conjunction.

I have two cats, and they are named Mishka and Felicity.

Notice the comma before the first “and?” That’s because I connected two INDEPENDENT clauses. When you connect independent clauses with a coordinating conjunction (FANBOYS!), you always use a comma. So if you’re saying “I like cats and dogs,” you don’t need a comma. You’re not listing things, so you don’t need a serial comma, and “dogs” is not an independent clause, so no comma.

To be continued:

I’m not sure if I’ll get Part 2 up tomorrow. Part two should cover how commas work with adverbial conjunctions and the like. Good luck!

Posted in Grammar Quick Fix.

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