Friday, June 13, 2014

A Clause for Celebration

Even many good writers must have been absent from school the day their English teacher discussed the independent clause, the basic sentence unit.

What’s an independent clause? This is a group of words that contains a subject and a verb, expresses a complete thought, and can stand alone. Example: “Barbara shouted.” If a sentence has two independent clauses that are connected by a conjunction—often and or but—it is called a compound sentence. Example: “Barbara shouted, and Steve turned around.”

Notice the comma after the word shouted and before the conjunction and. This is the way you should punctuate a compound sentence. If you can’t identify the subjects and verbs in this sentence, then you probably should consider giving up writing and becoming a fish farmer.

Pop quiz: Where do you place a comma in this sentence:

She wanted to run but her legs wouldn’t move.

Got it? Lord, I hope so.

Here’s another point to note when dealing with compound sentences that is an exception to the comma rule: When the subject is the same for both independent clauses and is expressed only once, you should use a comma if the connective is but. If the connective is and, you should omit the comma if the relationship between the two statements is close or immediate. Examples:

He has had several years’ experience and is thoroughly competent.

I have heard his arguments, but am still unconvinced.

Also keep in mind that you should avoid writing loose sentences that string together several independent clauses. Such constructions should be broken into separate sentences, or you can separate the independent clauses with a semicolon.

Paul Thayer