1. Humour Whiffet
    Offline

    Humour Whiffet Banned

    Joined:
    Sep 20, 2009
    Messages:
    188
    Likes Received:
    10
    Location:
    United Kingdom

    Conjunction joining a second independent clause

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Humour Whiffet, Sep 20, 2009.

    I should be grateful for any views on this punctuation puzzler. Take a look at the following quoted sentence:

    “The situation is perilous, but if we are prepared to act promptly, there is still one chance of escape.”

    You may recognise this from Strunk and White’s "The Elements of Style" (rule 4). The book states that no comma is needed after the conjunction “but.” In other words, you do not have to punctuate it as follows:

    “The situation is perilous, but, if we are prepared to act promptly, there is still one chance of escape.”

    However, R.L Trask states, in his "Penguin Guide to Punctuation," that such a construction would require a comma immediately follow the conjunction. He states that the following sentence is incorrect:

    “Josie originally wanted to be a teacher, but after finishing university, she decided to become a lawyer instead.”

    Now as far I as can see this is simply a matter of style rather than grammar. In other words, when Trask says the Stunk and White type of construction is wrong, what he is really saying is that it is wrong if you are punctuating “Penguin style.” My question is: do other readers agree with me here? Or is one method preferable?

    Regards,

    Kevin
     
  2. marina
    Offline

    marina Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2008
    Messages:
    1,280
    Likes Received:
    55
    Location:
    Seattle
    Maybe the difference is British vs. American, as I noticed Trask is from the UK.

    Looking at the 2 sentences, I think either are technically correct; however, since less is more, I prefer the S & W version.
     
  3. witch wyzwurd
    Offline

    witch wyzwurd Contributing Member

    Joined:
    May 6, 2008
    Messages:
    349
    Likes Received:
    6
    Location:
    Racine, Wisconsin
    Personally, I've learned to never place a comma after a conjunction, unless it is a conjuctive adverb, such as: My grass is green; in fact, it is greener than your grass.

    or

    there is an interrupter: But, to my surprise, your grass was greener when I actually tested it.

    or

    hesitation is required (which is rare, so don't overuse): The situation is perilous, but, if we are prepared to act promptly, there is still one chance of escape.

    I think here the reader is supposed to slow down to concentrate on the material after the conjunction.


    Hope that gives you some insight.
     
    1 person likes this.
  4. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    ww's examples/advice sound good to me...

    no agent or publisher is going to toss your work for having commas in the wrong places, if the writing itself is good, but the publisher's house style will most likely rule, in the end...
     
  5. architectus
    Offline

    architectus Banned

    Joined:
    Aug 19, 2008
    Messages:
    1,796
    Likes Received:
    14
    Location:
    Ca
    I've learned to follow S&W's rule. But the main reason why I wouldn't place a comma after "but" is because it's ugly.

    “Josie originally wanted to be a teacher, but, after finishing university, she decided to become a lawyer instead.” << ulgy.
     
  6. witch wyzwurd
    Offline

    witch wyzwurd Contributing Member

    Joined:
    May 6, 2008
    Messages:
    349
    Likes Received:
    6
    Location:
    Racine, Wisconsin
    It would be ugly there, because there is no need for an emphasis on the conjuction.

    Here's another example where emphasis is placed on the conjunction...

    The blades are not all that sharp, however, if you try to stop them when they're spinning, your hand could get cut off.

    Think of the sentence like this:

    The blades are not all that sharp, but(!), if you try to stop them when they're spinning, your hand could get cut off.

    (changed however(!) to but(!))
     
  7. architectus
    Offline

    architectus Banned

    Joined:
    Aug 19, 2008
    Messages:
    1,796
    Likes Received:
    14
    Location:
    Ca
    I was talking about conjunctions, and, but, or, for, yet, so.

    In the example you gave, there should be a semi-colon before "however."
     
  8. thirdwind
    Offline

    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2008
    Messages:
    7,352
    Likes Received:
    2,896
    Location:
    Boston
    Yes, I would also put a semicolon or period before "however."
     
  9. Sound of Silence
    Offline

    Sound of Silence Member

    Joined:
    Sep 19, 2008
    Messages:
    99
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Close to madness
    Hi Kevin, nice to have you here, hun. Grammarians... they couldn't agree on which pen was best to use let alone what way to go with words

    Ok,

    “The situation is perilous, but if we are prepared to act promptly, there is still one chance of escape.”

    looks like both examples are playing with parenthesis. Anything in between the commas can be deleted and what's left will still make a logical sentence. E.g.:

    “The situation is perilous, there is still one chance of escape.”

    You can get away with this because the usuall assumption is that sole comma up there replaces a conjunction:

    “The situation is perilous but there is still one chance of escape.”

    So grammatically with the everything put back into place and the additional info re-inserted: “The situation is perilous, but if we are prepared to act promptly, there is still one chance of escape.”, yep, that reads grammatically fine.

    And your:

    “The situation is perilous, but, if we are prepared to act promptly, there is still one chance of escape.”

    if we take out the additional info here (if we act promptly)...

    “The situation is perilous, but there is still one chance of escape.”

    The comma here is acting more like dramatic emphasis. So I can't find a problem with that either if you put it all back together:

    “The situation is perilous, but, if we are prepared to act promptly, there is still one chance of escape.”

    This second one adds more urgency to the situation, so certainly my choice would be the second. But that purely is that stylistic choice you were rightly on about. ;)
     
  10. Syne
    Offline

    Syne Member

    Joined:
    Aug 28, 2009
    Messages:
    22
    Likes Received:
    1
    Sound of Silence, I'm afraid your analysis is wrong (though I agree with the conclusion).

    The sentence, "The situation is perilous, there is still one chance of escape" is incorrect. It is a fairly common error known as a comma splice. In most cases, a comma cannot replace a conjunction.

    I see no technical reason why the conjunction 'but' (or other conjunction) would allow you to remove a comma from the independent clause. However, comma use is notoriously conflicted. While, technically, it is incorrect to neglect a comma before a conjunction, I've seen sources that sometimes suggest it, not mention having seen it done by many authors. To this end, I'd advice you to write whatever sounds better in the context of your sentence; unless, of course, you're writing for a publication that forces you to adhere to a particular style.
     
  11. marcusl
    Offline

    marcusl Member

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2009
    Messages:
    98
    Likes Received:
    0
    This is an interesting thread, but I'd like some confirmation on whether it's okay to have a comma before 'but'? I hope it is, because I have one in the first sentence :p.
     
  12. Humour Whiffet
    Offline

    Humour Whiffet Banned

    Joined:
    Sep 20, 2009
    Messages:
    188
    Likes Received:
    10
    Location:
    United Kingdom
    Thanks for all the replies.

    In answer to the above, Strunk and White style would require the comma before the "but" because you are joining two independent clauses with a coordinating conjunction.

    I believe Chicago style calls for the same.

    British style guides such as "Hart's Rules" aren't quite so helpful on such matters. "Fowler's Modern English Usage" introduces a more subjective test in such instances, which requires the writer to decide whether the main clauses are sufficiently close in meaning or content to form a continuous unpunctuated sentence.

    To return to my initial query, I am starting to suspect that Trask gave a thumbs down to the Strunk and White style of punctuation simply because he has a neat little formula to help his readers decide whether a comma is needed. If he'd permitted the Strunk and White style punctuation it would have messed up his formula and made his simple guide far more complex. This is only my theory!

    Again, thanks for everyone’s comments.

    Kevin
     
  13. Syne
    Offline

    Syne Member

    Joined:
    Aug 28, 2009
    Messages:
    22
    Likes Received:
    1
    Technically, you have to precede the coordinating conjunction with a comma when joining two independent clauses ('but' is a coordinating conjunction; see more info regarding the subject in the link). However, if both clauses are short, and no confusion emerges from doing so, you can omit the comma.
     
  14. ManhattanMss
    Offline

    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

    Joined:
    May 14, 2009
    Messages:
    626
    Likes Received:
    14
    I agree with you about style. And so, I'd probably put a semicolon before "but," since you have two separate, complete thoughts--one of which is complicated by the need for a comma. And I might omit the comma following "but," since its presence doesn't clarify the meaning, nor does its absence murky it up ...

    “The situation is perilous; but if we are prepared to act promptly, there is still one chance of escape.”

    In fact (stylistically), I'd probably go with two separate sentences, one introduced by the conjuction, since your two thoughts on either side of the semicolon are not entirely parallel ...

    “The situation is perilous. But if we are prepared to act promptly, there is still one chance of escape.”

    In any case, these are matters an editor of a particular zine or pub will weigh in on prior to publication (if it matters to them), because stylistic matters will be either dictated or guided by the custom and preference of the particular publisher. And sometimes the writer will have reasons for particular choices that will matter, as well.
     
  15. Sound of Silence
    Offline

    Sound of Silence Member

    Joined:
    Sep 19, 2008
    Messages:
    99
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Close to madness
    Depends which grammatical format you follow, hun. I'm a functionalist and the comma splice doesn't run to format for some. I'm working with punctuation that does have more of a universal base: parenthesis. But that's language for you - form and function get cross-dressed so many ways by different theories. I hear about the comma splice, but being British, it doesn't register. That's not saying it's wrong, it's just a different approach. :rolleyes:
     
  16. witch wyzwurd
    Offline

    witch wyzwurd Contributing Member

    Joined:
    May 6, 2008
    Messages:
    349
    Likes Received:
    6
    Location:
    Racine, Wisconsin
    Huh? That is not correct. The following would be acceptable...

    “The situation is perilous; however, if we are prepared to act promptly, there is still one chance of escape.”

    Huh?

    Try...

    The situation is perilous. We are prepared to act promptly. There is still one chance of escape.
     

Share This Page