Comma or Semicolon?

Comma or Semicolon?

Comma or Semicolon?

A number of people don’t know when to use a comma versus a semicolon.

Of course, the world will not fall apart if you make mistakes in punctuation; however, your writing will become much stronger when these little symbols are used effectively and correctly.

There are a lot of rules, but here is a simple way to solve most of the questions about when to use a comma and when to use a semicolon.

Use a comma when you have an introductory phrase or clause.

          Whenever she sings, the dog howls.

Use a comma to separate items in a list (three or more items). The list can be made up of words or groups of words.

          Theodore bought soap, shampoo, and conditioner at the drug store.

          The puppy ran behind the bushes, down the hill, and right into the lake.

When there is already a need for several commas, you should use semi-colons for a bigger break.

          Those present at the meeting were Susan Brown, president; Tom Black, vice-president; and Margaret White, public relations representative.

The one confusion that I really want to clear up is when you are joining clauses and phrases with coordinating conjunctions.

Here are the coordinating conjunctions: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so.

When joining an independent clause and a phrase with a coordinating conjunction, you should not use a comma.

          Justin loves cookies but hates to eat cake.

tornadoWhen joining independent clauses with a coordinating conjunction, you do need a comma.

          Justin loves cookies, but he hates to eat cake.

You can see that there is a very small difference in these two examples; however, by adding “he,” another independent clause has been created. Think of independent clauses as full sentences. 

          Justin loves cookies. He hates to eat cake.

When joining an independent clause and a dependent clause, a comma is often not used if the dependent clause comes after the independent clause.

          The bus is always late if the weather is inclement.

When the dependent clause comes first, it is often treated similarly to an introductory clause or phrase, and you would use a comma.

          If the weather is inclement, the bus is always late.

When joining two independent clauses with a conjunctive adverb or a transitional expression, use a semicolon before and a comma after the conjunctive adverb or transitional expression.

          The rain finally stopped; however, the game remained cancelled.

          The participants had too many disagreements; in other words, nothing was accomplished.

Examples of conjunctive adverbs and transitional expressions include the following: however, therefore, moreover, on the contrary, eventually, notably, whereas, for example, finally.  (There are many more!)        

Notice, however, that if you are joining an independent clause and a dependent clause or phrase, you would only use commas on both sides.

          The taste discourages many people, however, not Jonathan!

As usual in the English language, there are exceptions.  If your introductory phrase or clause is brief and there would be no confusion, you don’t need to use a comma.  Also, when your independent clauses are very closely related, they can be joined with just a coordinating conjunction or even just a semicolon (although I would recommend against this last one 99.9% of the time).

As mentioned earlier, there are many rules, conventions, and exceptions when punctuating.  These few tips and examples will help with many of your sentences.

If you want to learn more, check out the punctuation course. Discount!

Punctuation Made So Easy!


Comma or Semicolon?:


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