Don't Let Errors Ruin Your Submission, Pt 2 Compound Sentences

Last week, I started a blog series about avoiding the dreaded rejection letter by recognizing and correcting errors in your writing.  Today, we're going to take a deeper look at one of the 11 rules of grammar mentioned last time. This rule has lots of elements, so that's why it gets its own post.

If this rule isn't the one you want explained, never fear, I will cover all 11 in this series.

Missed last week's post and the 11 rules of grammar? Find it here.

We need to talk about commas.

I know. I know. You either love or hate commas. I get it. If you're not sure when you need one, it's hard to like them. I actually love commas when used properly. I get really annoyed when someone leaves out a necessary comma. Why? Because it complicates my comprehension when reading. I find myself reading the sentence more than once which throws me out of the story. I want to submerge in a story and not notice the writing.

Rule 1: Joining Two Independent Clauses

To join two independent clauses, use a comma followed by a conjunction,
a semicolon alone, or a semicolon followed by a sentence modifier.

What a mouthful! If it's been a while, you might feel like you're reading a foreign language. It's ok. Let's define the terms.

  • Independent clause: contains a subject and verb and can stand alone as a sentence
  • Conjunction: connecting words such as and, so, but, and yet
  • Sentence modifier: connecting or transitioning words such as however and therefore

Let's consider this sentence:

The door swung open and she scurried inside the small entryway.

1. Ask yourself, "Are there two independent clauses?"

In this case, the answer is yes. We have the following:
  • The door swung open
  • She scurried inside the small entryway

Both of these could be written as simple sentences, but that kind of writing often feels choppy and immature.

2. Decide whether a conjunction, semicolon, or sentence modifier works best. 

Sometimes, this will be obvious. Other times, it will be a matter of your choice and style. Let's break down the options.

Option 1: Use comma followed by a conjunction

The door swung open, and she scurried inside the small entryway.

For me, this option works best. It flows with the sentence. We use a comma followed by the conjunction "and" to connect the two independent clauses. As for which conjunction you use, make sure that it fits the sentence's meaning. You wouldn't use "but" here because it would imply that in spite of the door opening, she went inside.  Instead, this sentence implies that she went inside because the door opened. You could use "and" or "so" to fit this sentence.

Option 2: Use a semicolon

The door swung open; she scurried inside the small entryway.

Although this option is acceptable, it's choppy in this example. We've dropped the "and" in favor of a semicolon. You can do this with two independent clauses as long as they are closely related to the same idea, so it can be an option. Just make sure it doesn't interrupt the flow of your narrative.

Option 3: Use a sentence modifier

The door swung open; therefore, she scurried inside the small entryway.

In this example, we place a semicolon after the first independent clause, add the sentence modifier, and follow that with a comma. Depending on the context of the writing, this can feel formal. Make sure you consider the audience and goal of your writing before using this option. FYI, using the sentence modifier does not always create a formal voice, but you should be aware of the possibility.

Since this sentence came from my short story, "Cedar Revenge," formal doesn't fit the style and voice.

Option 4: Remove the subject of the second clause.

Sometimes, there will be a fourth option where both independent clauses have the same subject. For example, if the two independent clauses are:
  • She pushed the door open
  • She scurried inside the small entryway
In this case, your most obvious choices would be:
  • She pushed the door open, and she scurried inside the small entryway.
  • She pushed the door open and scurried inside the small entryway.

In the second solution, we no longer have two independent clauses because we dropped the subject "she" in the second clause. That means we do NOT need a comma before the "and" in this sentence. In this case. I would probably go with example 2, because it creates an easier to read sentence.

This rule is one of the most common ones I see misused, so I won't go on to any others at this point. If you have questions or examples, feel free to put them in the comments of this post. Next week, we will continue to look at commas by exploring rules 2 and 3.


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