Monday, December 10, 2018

R&R: Raves and Rants ~ Commas and Compound Sentences


Commas and Compound Sentences

 I’ve never done a formal study of it, but if I had to guess, I’d say that the comma is the second-most common punctuation mark, following the period.  And, as you can see from the number that I included in that sentence, I’m a huge fan of commas.  Yes, I know that there’s a trend toward eliminating them, with some people referring to them as speedbumps, but doing so can create confusion or result in truly absurd sentences.
Commas are sometimes called speedbumps, but they're important
Let’s start by reviewing the purpose of commas or, for that matter, any form of punctuation.  Punctuation is designed to make sense of the written word and, to a lesser degree, to tell us when to pause.  When we speak, we take breaths occasionally.  The period, the semicolon, and the comma can be viewed as signals to the reader that it’s okay to pause ever so briefly.  And unlike a speedbump, which no one likes, those pauses are good … if they’re used properly. 

This month we’re going to discuss the use of commas in compound sentences.  You probably know the definition of a compound sentence, but here’s a refresher: a compound sentence is one composed of more than one independent clause.  Simply put, there are multiple subjects and multiple verbs, and the clauses make sense if they stand alone.  (Did you notice that the last two sentences were compound?)

There are several ways to punctuate a compound sentence, depending on how the clauses are connected.  We’re going to start with the simplest and most common, the one that’s punctuated with a comma.  The rule is: if the clauses are connected by what some call “simple links” and others refer to by the acronym FANBOYS, you need a comma before the linking word.

What are the FANBOYS?

The meaning of fanboys
Let’s look at a couple examples of correct and incorrect punctuation.

Correct

It was the second week in December, and every storefront was covered with holiday decorations.

The snow was heavy and just right for packing, so we planned to make a snowman and then go sledding.

Incorrect

Michelle’s job was to protect the owners’ interests in the matters of schedules and budgetary issues and rotten beams had the potential to affect both.

What’s wrong with this?  Not only is it a run-on sentence, but as written, it appears that Michelle is supposed to protect the owners’ interests in matters of schedules, budgetary issues, and rotten beams.  Yes, you can make sense of the sentence, but the lack of a comma between “issues” and “and” means that your brain had to pause to figure out exactly what the author meant.  This is one case where the pause was unwelcome and unnecessary.

Here’s another example.  Like the previous one, I found it in a published book.

There had to be an inch of dust accumulated but that could be cleaned. It was early April, and warm during the day.

Did you find the errors in these sentences?  The first sentence needs a comma before “but,” since that’s one of the FANBOYS.  The second needs no commas, since it contains only one clause.  In this case, the comma causes us to pause at the wrong time.  That was a definite speedbump.

There are other ways to punctuate compound sentences and a number of other uses for the comma that we’ll discuss in future months, but we’ll take a brief break from them, because I want to start 2019 with Lessons from Little Women.  See you then!

~Amanda

A lifetime of reading and writing, not to mention a host of teachers who believed that good grammar was one of the essentials of life, have given Amanda Cabot such firm opinions about the printed word that I asked her to share some with us in her Raves and Rants posts.  Although her working career was in Information Technology, Amanda achieved her dream of selling her first novel before her thirtieth birthday and is now the author of more than thirty novels as well as a number of books and articles for Information Technology professionals.  

Her most recent release is A Borrowed Dream, the second of the Cimarron Creek trilogy.

Find all of Amanda's books, newsletter info and social media links here.