Tag Archives: punctuation

Sentence clauses and where to put the comma. With gratuitous nudity.

Warning: The naked monster in this picture has nothing to do with the content below and is therefore gratuitous.

Warning: The naked monster in this picture has nothing to do with the content below and is therefore gratuitous.

Do you have any idea how hard it is to think up an enticing blog post title when your topic is sentence clauses? That’s about as unsexy a thing as can be discussed. My other options were Full Frontal Commas and When Punctuation Marks Hook Up, but I ultimately decided “sentences clauses” and “comma” both belonged because the union of those two language elements is what we’re talking about today.

I’m willing to bet that when writers express worry about their punctuation skills, their chief grief is commas. Like, when to use one and where to put it (by the way, if you block out the rest of this post, you have to admit what I just wrote could be sexy). Today I shall discuss one aspect of comma use: when they are required to separate sentence clauses and when they are not.

The guidelines are pretty simple. If you have a dependent clause, you don’t need a comma, and if you have an independent clause, you do need a comma. Important note: Dependent and independent clauses are typically separated by “and” or “but.”

But sometimes, to even the most experienced writer, grammar talk sounds like bleeeeeaaaaaaahhhhhhh grldlugnk fzzznuh. Therefore, I shall provide examples.

A sentence with a dependent clause:

Im-Ho-Tep, pre bling

Im-Ho-Tep, pre bling

Im-Ho-Tep was awakened from his ancient slumber and began killing the archeologists who disturbed his tomb.

Two things happened in that sentence. Im-Ho-Tep woke up, and he began killing archeologists. Each thing is described by a clause (as well as separated by “and”). I made the second clause dependent (without a comma) because the two things are connected. He was awakened and killed the people who woke him up, kind of like I wanted to kill the garbage truck that woke me up this morning at 5:45.

By technical definition, the second clause is dependent because it depends on the first half of the sentence for meaning. Began killing the archeologists who disturbed his tomb does not have enough information to be a sentence. It’s missing a subject.

Here’s one with an independent clause:

Im-Ho-Tep awoke from his ancient slumber, and he quickly decided to ditch the yellowed wrapping in favor of Versace and some nice bling.

I made the second half an independent clause because, while the subject (Im-Ho-Tep) does not change, the two actions aren’t directly related. By technical definition, the second clause is independent because it stands alone as a complete thought or idea. He quickly decided to ditch the yellowed wrapping in favor of Versace and some nice bling works as a sentence.

To recap: If your second clause depends on the first to make sense, you do not need a comma because the thoughts are not separate. If your second clause stands alone from your first clause as a functionally independent statement, you do need a comma. More examples follow…

Dependent:

Countess Dracula climbed out of her coffin and ventured into the night in search of human blood.

Two ideas are expressed and are separated by “and,” but ventured into the dark night in search of human blood is incomplete by itself.

Independent:

Countess Dracula gazed longingly into the eyes of her human beverage container, and he gave it up to her after deciding there were far worse ways to die.

In this case, he gave it up to her after deciding there were far worse ways to die could be a sentence by itself, so you need a comma.

OK. It got a teeny bit sexy at the end.

OK. It got a teeny bit sexy near the end.

Dependent (with “but”):

Larry was bitten by a werewolf but did not transform into one until the night of the next full moon.

Did not transform into one until the night of the next full moon is not a complete sentence. No comma.

Independent (with “but”):

Larry became a drooling, uncontrollable savage last night, but that happens every weekend at his frat house.

That happens every weekend at his frat house is a complete sentence. Yes comma.

This is hardly a comprehensive explanation of when to use commas and when not to when composing a two-clause sentence, but I think the other scenarios are more intuitive.

Thoughts, comments, monetary donations are welcome below.

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Guest Post: Punctuation Haiku

Not Kevin Brennan

Not Kevin Brennan

Writer and blogger Kevin Brennan really hates redundant quote marks following a certain word. So much so that he wrote haiku about it. Who am I to stand in the way of artistic expression? Here you go, courtesy of Mr. Brennan:

When using so-called,
Do me a favor, doofus:
No quotation marks!

So-called: efficient.
For the word that follows it
No quotes are needed!

It bugs me to see,
When someone uses so-called,
Subsequent quote marks.


Help Prevent Hyphen Abuse

rodan

No one, aside from weirdos, wants to read some boring post about grammar and punctuation. I’m not an English teacher, and I’m not in the business of excerpting textbooks. So let us keep this post on hyphens to one point. Ready?

This is a hyphen:  –

This is an adverb:  quickly

This is the aforementioned point of this post: When modifying a noun with an adverb, omit the hyphen. The “ly” replaces it.

I know; writers hate adverbs and want them to suffer. But those poor, maligned parts of speech are in charge when nouns must be modified, no matter how beautiful the hyphen that comes traipsing along. See the action-packed example that appears after this paragraph break.

Wrong: The quickly-flowing lava raced down the volcano’s slope, enveloping the ancient monster, Rodan, before the beast could fly away.

Right: The quickly flowing lava raced down the volcano’s slope, enveloping the ancient monster, Rodan, before the beast could fly away.

When modifying a noun without an adverb, use a hyphen.

Right: The flesh-eating monster, Rodan, is impervious to all things. Except lava.

That is all for today. Other than, “Beware of Rodan.”

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Little known fact: John Lennon was singing about punctuation abuse in this song. 100% of the proceeds from this YouTube video go toward improving the quality of life for hyphens. If I were the Beatles, though, I’d probably set aside $40 to buy a microphone stand so Paul and George don’t have to share.