How to Use a Coordinating Conjunction with a Comma in a Sentence

For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So

Coordinating conjunctions often connect two complete thoughts in a sentence. You can remember these words by the acronym FANBOYS, which stands for For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, and So.

Let’s go over that by looking at this formula:

COMPLETE THOUGHT + FANBOYS + COMPLETE THOUGHT.

Here’s what that looks like in a sentence:

The cat ate the pizza, and she thought it tasted good.

“The cate at the pizza” is a complete thought, and “she thought it tasted good” is a complete thought (note that they could both stand on their own as separate sentences). The coordinating conjunction “and” joined the two complete thoughts.

Do you notice anything else about the sentence? A comma goes before the coordinating conjunction when it separates two complete thoughts. That’s the last part of our formula. Now it looks like this:

COMPLETE THOUGHT + COMMA + FANBOYS + COMPLETE THOUGHT.

Let’s look at examples for each of the FANBOYS:

For: The cat ate the pizza, for she was hungry.

And: The cat went to the restaurant, and she ate the pizza.

Nor: The cat does not like pineapple pizza, nor does she like mushroom pizza.

But: The cat doesn’t like mushroom pizza, but she ate it because it was free.

Or: The cat could eat pizza, or she could eat tacos.

Yet: The cat went to the restaurant, yet she could have had a pizza delivered.

So: The cat was really hungry, so she ate four slices of pizza.

To sum up: FANBOYS are words (called “coordinating conjunctions”) that often join two complete thoughts into one sentence. A comma goes before FANBOYS in this situation.

 

Erin Servais is a book editor, author coach, and founder of Dot and Dash LLC, an author-services company. To learn how she can help you with your next book project, check out http://www.dotanddashllc.com or email Erin@dotanddashllc.com.

Ouch! That comma splices!

Lesson: how to correctly join independent clauses

 

Take a look at this sentence.

The Martians want to look their best, they wear their green jumpsuits.

There is something wrong here. (And it’s not that the Martians think jumpsuits are high fashion.) Notice the comma between best and they? That’s called a comma splice. Sounds painful, doesn’t it?

The comma splice is a common error in sentence construction. When the parts of the sentence on each side of the comma can stand alone as separate sentences (These are called independent clauses.), you can’t use a comma to separate them.

Don’t fear. There are several remedies to the comma splice.

1. Separate into two sentences
Because independent clauses can function as separate sentences, you can use a period to separate them. Here’s how this correction looks:

The Martians want to look their best. They wear their green jumpsuits.

In some instances, it might also make sense to use a question mark to separate the independent clauses, such as in this comma splice example:

Did the Martians look silly in their green jumpsuits, yes they did.

Since the first independent clause is actually a question, you’ll want to place a question mark after it. Here is how this correction looks:

Did the Martians look silly in their green jumpsuits? Yes they did.

In other instances, you may want to use an exclamation point to separate the independent clauses, such as in this comma splice example:

The martians look ridiculous, green jumpsuits are ugly.

Because the first independent clause lends itself to more emphasis, you could use an exclamation point after it. This correction looks like this:

The martians look ridiculous! Green jumpsuits are ugly.

2. Separate with a comma and a coordinating conjunction
Coordinating conjunctions are the words and, nor, but, or, yet, and so. These words join parts of a sentence together. In sentences with more than one independent clause, they work with a comma to separate the clauses. Here’s how this correction looks:

The Martians want to look their best, so they wear their green jumpsuits.

3. Separate with a semicolon
If both independent clauses deal with the same general idea, then you can separate them with a semicolon. Here’s how this correction looks:

The Martians want to look their best; they wear their green jumpsuits.

However, if the independent clauses are not about the same general idea, then the semicolon isn’t the best option. For example, take a look at this comma splice example:

The Martians wear their green jumpsuits, they eat purple custard.

The first independent clause deals with wearing clothes. The second deals with eating food. Since these two ideas are not related, a semicolon shouldn’t connect them. To make it correct, you would want to use option 1:

The Martians wear their green jumpsuits. They eat purple custard.

or option 2:

The Martians wear their green jumpsuits, and they eat purple custard.

Voilà. That’s how you fix comma splices. (Just try to stay away from Martians. I heard they’re poor dressers.)