Grammar Connecting Sentences with Commas and Semicolons |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Connecting Sentences with Commas and Semicolons

Many of you have been asking for help with punctuating between clauses and phrases within sentences. You want to know when you should use a comma and when you need a semicolon. Here are a few rules with examples that I hope you find very helpful.

Commas

Rule: Use a comma between two independent clauses when conjunctions such as and, or, but, for, nor connect them.

Example: I have painted the entire house, but she is still working on sanding the floors.

Rule: If the clauses are short (your call), then leave out the comma.

Example: I painted and he sanded.

Rule: If you have only one clause (one subject and verb pair), you generally won’t need a comma in front of the conjunction.

Example: I have painted the house but still need to sand the floors.
This sentence has two verbs but only one subject, so it has only one clause.

Semicolons

So when does the semicolon get to have its time in the spotlight?

Rule: Use the semicolon if you have two independent clauses you are connecting without a conjunction.

Example: I have painted the house; I still need to sand the floors.

Rule: Also, use the semicolon when you have commas for smaller separations, and you need the semicolon to show a bigger separation.

Example: We had a reunion with family from Salt Lake City, Utah; Los Angeles, California; and Albany, New York.

 

Pop Quiz
Select the correctly punctuated sentence.

1a. I attend the fashion shows and my husband goes to the jazz clubs.
1b. I attend the fashion shows, and my husband goes to the jazz clubs.
1c. I attend the fashion shows; and my husband goes to the jazz clubs.

2a. I love fashion and he loves jazz.
2b. I love fashion, and he loves jazz.
2c. I love fashion; and he loves jazz.

3a. I attend the fashion shows but not the jazz clubs.
3b. I attend the fashion shows, but not the jazz clubs.
3c. I attend the fashion shows; but not the jazz clubs.

4a. I attend the fashion shows my husband goes to the jazz clubs.
4b. I attend the fashion shows, my husband goes to the jazz clubs.
4c. I attend the fashion shows; my husband goes to the jazz clubs.

5a. I buy cheese, milk, and eggs at my neighborhood market apples, oranges, and grapes from the farmers’ market and aspirin, shaving cream, and deodorant from the pharmacy.
5b. I buy cheese, milk, and eggs at my neighborhood market, apples, oranges, and grapes from the farmers’ market, and aspirin, shaving cream, and deodorant from the pharmacy.
5c. I buy cheese, milk, and eggs at my neighborhood market; apples, oranges, and grapes from the farmers’ market; and aspirin, shaving cream, and deodorant from the pharmacy.

 

Pop Quiz Answers

1b. I attend the fashion shows, and my husband goes to the jazz clubs.

2a. I love fashion and he loves jazz.

3a. I attend the fashion shows but not the jazz clubs.

4c. I attend the fashion shows; my husband goes to the jazz clubs.

5c. I buy cheese, milk, and eggs at my neighborhood market; apples, oranges, and grapes from the farmers’ market; and aspirin, shaving cream, and deodorant from the pharmacy.

If the article or the existing discussions do not address a thought or question you have on the subject, please use the "Comment" box at the bottom of this page.

46 responses to “Connecting Sentences with Commas and Semicolons”

  1. ravi bedi says:

    We had a reunion with family: from Salt Lake City, Utah; Los Angeles, California; and Albany, New York.

    Would this work?

  2. Jane says:

    A colon is not necessary in the middle of your sentence.

  3. Buddy says:

    Are there other coordinating conjunctions besides the ones listed above?

    Also, how do you italicize words on here?

    • Jane says:

      The coordinating conjunctions are:
      and, but, for, or, nor, and the adverbs so and yet that sometimes function as conjunctions.
      I am able to italicize in my replies, but the software does not give readers that capability for their questions.

      • Yes, the word yet should be added to Jane’s reply of September 22, 2010, regarding adverbs that also sometimes function as coordinating conjunctions. The seven coordinating conjunctions are and, but, for, nor, or, so, and yet.

  4. Buddy says:

    I asked because words like “as,” “so,” and “then” seem to function as if they are coordinating conjunctions too.

    • Jane says:

      You can consider these as connecting words even if they are not usually acting as coordinating conjunctions. For example, then and so usually act as adverbs.

  5. william says:

    I want to know if this would be correct.

    Employers’ Organizations: Who they are? What they do? and How they do it?

  6. Jane says:

    To follow your colon with questions, you should change the wording: Who are they? What do they do? How do they do it?
    If you don’t want questions because this is a title, then use the following: Who they are, what they do, and how they do it.

  7. Becky says:

    I am having a problem with the following sentence:
    1. I moved closer to the wall, hoping my sister wouldn’t hear me.

    Is there a comma after wall?

    2. He was playing and unfortunately fell.

    I have used a rather short sentence here, but my problem is when a conjunction is used to join a clause (which doesn’t have a subject), and there is a paranthetical clause that immediately follows it where does the comma go. Is it:

    He was playing and unfortunately, fell.
    Or
    He was playing and, unfortunately, fell.

    I have several long sentences where the and doesn’t need a comma but there is a paranthetical clause that follows immediately and needs a comma.

    Thank you so much for your response!

    • It is usually unnecessary to use a comma when the sentence starts with a strong clause followed by a weak clause.

      I moved closer to the wall hoping my sister wouldn’t hear me.

      It is customary to use commas to set off expressions that interrupt sentence flow.

      He was playing and, unfortunately, fell. OR
      Unfortunately, he fell while he was playing.

  8. Inq says:

    How many independent clauses can be joined by conjunctions, semicolons, and the like? Could a single compound sentence rage on and on with appropriate or proper links and/or conjunctions?

    • There is no rule limiting the number of independent clauses in a single sentence, however, the reader’s ability to comprehend the sentence will certainly decrease if a compound sentence “rages on and on,” even if the conjunctions and punctuation are correct.

  9. Nancy says:

    He was the last supervisor to whom you reported; is that correct?

    Semi colon before is that correct or comma?

  10. Claudette says:

    When using the word “however” in a sentence, does it always have a comma to follow?

    • Both Rule 4b in our Commas section and Rule 2 in our Semicolons section recommend commas after the word however when used as an interrupter or as an introductory word, respectively. Note that we did not use a comma nor did you use a comma after the word in our sentences because however was not used either as an interrupter or as an introductory word.

  11. David says:

    GrammarBook,

    Thank you for your site. What is your opinion of the following sentence?

    “I earned my degree from Nameless U., graduating with honors; and have been responsible for several projects in the XYZ sector.”

    An editor I work with contends that my use of the semi-colon is illegitimate, as not covered by rules stated at your site and another one he consults. He says: “It obviously doesn’t work if ‘graduating with honors’ is a parenthetical, because a comma is required on both sides of a parenthetical,” and that what follows after the semicolon is “obviously not an independent clause.”

    I argue that a comma cannot be required on both sides of a subordinate element if the closing item of punctuation is even stronger than a comma. Would a period also be illicit? As I understand it, punctuation organizes the elements of sentence into units in such a way that it can read it as intended. I don’t see that it can be a violation of the very purpose of punctuation in telling the reader how to organize the sentence into units to make the close of a subordinate element unambiguous.

    Because the subject of the second clause is only implicit, one can say that the words following the colon are not an independent clause or that we must have some kind of complicated compound predicate, not two clauses. Okay; the second is without an explicit subject. The second part also starts with a conjunction. But the semi-colon certainly tells the reader to segregate the first element from the second more sharply than the comma segregates the two elements in the first clause. I’m not saying that the reader would misread the sentence if the semi-colon were a comma, but I don’t see how he is even potentially misled by the semi-colon or that an extremely nice reading of rules about commas or semi-colons expels it from legitimacy.

    The sentence has two sub-thoughts, one about education, the other about experience, within one larger thought, “I have the qualifications for this job.” The semi-colon reinforces the fact that one sub-unit of the larger thought, which is itself subdivided, has ended, and the other now begins. In instructs the reader to unequivocally segregate the one sub-thought from the other.

    What say you?

    • First off, semicolon is one word. The editor is on shaky ground with his views on semicolons. For instance, what follows a semicolon in a sentence like yours doesn’t necessarily have to be an independent clause. That is an unrealistically rigid position that many fine writers ignore. However, in that particular place a comma would be our preference. Or, yes, you could make it a period, followed by “I have been responsible for … etc.”

  12. Akansha says:

    Reading here is sure helpful! Thanks.

    Can you guide me on the following sentence? Is the comma needed where I have placed it:

    The purpose of such debates is to train students to think critically and creatively, in ways which will be important for their success in the information age, they will live in for their entire lives.

  13. Sudesh says:

    I wanted to point a possible mistake in punctuation (at least in my opinion) in a sentence at https://www.grammarbook.com/grammar/pronoun.asp.

    Your sentence: Someone has to do it, and has to do it well.

    What I believe is correct: Someone has to do it and has to do it well.

    The comma shouldn’t be there as the clause “has to do it well” cannot be a complete sentence on its own.

    • You may remember that in the intro to our Commas section we said that a comma signals a pause. The comma is not required in the sentence, but the sense of the sentence is underscored by the comma, which gives extra emphasis to “and has to do it well.” Rules of writing cannot be ironclad, or else we would all be robots, and our writing would be colorless and inhibited. Experienced professional writers are free to bend rules as long as they know the rules.

  14. aungthu says:

    The big breakers came in slowly; their shoulders growing tall and green. They crashed in thunderous white.

    What is the usage of semicolon in this sentence? Do we need to add the verb after semicolon in this case?

    • A semicolon can be used to connect two independent clauses without a conjunction. The second part of your sentence is not an independent clause. Therefore, use a comma or edit the sentence.
      The big breakers came in slowly, their shoulders growing tall and green. They crashed in thunderous white. OR
      The big breakers came in slowly; their shoulders were growing tall and green. They crashed in thunderous white.
      See our rules for Semicolons for more information.

  15. Dave says:

    What if I decide the dependent clause is as important as the independent clause. Should I use the comma?
    ex: He rises and stretches out the kinks in his back, then walks into the bathroom and stares at his bloodshot eyes in the mirror.

    • Clean, correct grammar would include “and” before the adverb “then”: He rises, stretches out the kinks in his back, and then walks…

      Another effective rewrite could be: He rises and stretches the kinks in his back. Then he [or He then] walks into the bathroom and stares at his bloodshot eyes in the mirror.

  16. Lee says:

    It may seem that genre conventions never change, that a Western today follows the same set of rules as a Western from 100 years ago.
    I don’t really understand. Why is this sentence grammatically correct?

    • Our Rule 3b of Commas says, “In sentences where two independent clauses are joined by connectors such as and, or, but, etc., put a comma at the end of the first clause.” The independent clauses in your sentence are joined by the conjunction that; therefore, a comma is used.

      Also, in accordance with our Rule 4 of Colons , “A colon instead of a semicolon may be used between independent clauses when the second sentence explains, illustrates, paraphrases, or expands on the first sentence.” Therefore, after removing the conjunction “that,” your sentence may also be written as:
      It may seem that genre conventions never change: a Western today follows the same set of rules as a Western from 100 years ago.

  17. Kim says:

    How to to connect more than 3 dependent clauses arranged as lists of phrases? Is that possible?

  18. Jane says:

    Starving causes your behavior to slow down, significantly reduces energy.

    Would this work? Can I use comma instead of conjunctions?

    • The word behavior represents quite a broad category. We’ll use a different word to help you express the concept grammatically, and you can substitute the word you want. We recommend rewriting as follows:
      Starving causes your metabolism to slow down, significantly reducing energy. OR
      Starving causes your metabolism to slow down and significantly reduces energy.

  19. Reymin C. says:

    Thank you for this lesson; I appreciate it!

  20. T.J. Neal says:

    Thank you for covering this.

    Some guides, particularly those for professional transcriptionists, recommend no comma between clauses if there are five words or less.

    This is right in line with what I learned in college and continuing education; it is also forth in the guidelines of professional organizations. And yet proofreaders will badger transcriptionists over this and other grammar rules and arbitrarily change transcripts to be inaccurate before sending to clients.

  21. Toby says:

    Is the lack of a comma in 1a totally incorrect? If I read it, it wouldn’t pop out to me as an egregious error. That being said, I’ve become quite comma-averse these days.

    • We suppose there might be worse punctuation errors, but it is still an error except when the independent clauses are short. There is a trend toward fewer commas in certain cases. One example is omitting the comma following short introductory phrases of three words or less, for example When in town we go shopping. (See our Rule 4a of Commas.)

  22. Paul A. Torres says:

    Is it correct to separate numbers with commas with semicolons?
    Example: The numbers are 10,000; 21,677; and 6,555.

    • In accordance with our Rule 3 of Semicolons, “Use a semicolon to separate units of a series when one or more of the units contain commas,” your treatment would help make the sentence easy to read and understand.

  23. Nikki Petrin says:

    Can you please help with sentence structures? Which is correct?
    Additional testing may be performed, please contact the laboratory if further testing is needed.
    – or –
    Additional testing may be performed. Please contact the laboratory if further testing is needed.

    • As this post states, “Use the semicolon if you have two independent clauses you are connecting without a conjunction.” Your second example is correct, or you may write it as follows:
      Additional testing may be performed; please contact the laboratory if further testing is needed.

  24. Anna Barnes says:

    Can you help with how to use a conjunction at the start of a sentence? For example, do I need to add a comma after and, but, or so?

    Examples:
    And Elaine Piper, who played many roles, was a formidable character in real life.
    But many of the students scored well on the tests.
    But for whomever you are contacting, make sure you use the correct form of address.
    So when you need help, please call me.

  25. Brandon says:

    I’m a bit confused with the following sentence:

    So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

    Since commas alone aren’t able to join two independent clauses together, I assume everything up until the semicolon is regarded as one main clause, and that which follows after it is regarded as another; therefore, making this example of mine a compound sentence. But I’m unsure due to the comma. If this is indeed a compound sentence what is the function of the comma?

    I look forward to your response.

    • GrammarBook.com says:

      In reference to Genesis 1:27, the text that appears in biblical translations such as the New International Version appear to favor literary technique over strict grammar; the style is for sound and effect rather than precision. Other biblical versions appear to have applied the editor’s pen, such as this treatment in the New Living Translation: “So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

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