Red (superhero_specs) wrote in fandom_grammar,

Answer: Are Conjunctions Always Preceded by a Comma?

With examples from Firefly, House, and Stargate SG-1.

The short answer is, no.

The long answer is, it depends on the role of the role of the conjunction.

momebie 's Jan. 4th Friday Feature on Independent and Dependent Clauses discussed two roles for conjunctions.

Coordinating conjunctions link independent clauses. These are: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so (or FANBOYS, as my high school English teachers suggested we remember them).

Jack: You wouldn't think jagged bone digging into raw nerves would hurt, but it does.

Mal: We have done the impossible, and that makes us mighty.

Subordinating conjunctions, or Dependent Marker Words, show that one clause is dependent on another. There are too many of these to memorize with a clever acronym, but some common ones are if, although, when, since, until, and because.

Wash: Sweetie, we're crooks. If everything were right, we'd be in jail.

Cameron: Is that rhetorical?
House: No, it just seems that way because you can't think of an answer.

Each of these special kinds of conjunctions have comma rules that go with them.

1. When using a coordinating conjunction to connect independent clauses, always use a comma before the conjunction:

Wilson: If we'd told you the truth, that you'd solved it based on absolutely no medical proof, you'd think you were God, and I was worried your wings would melt.

Jack: Got sick of waiting in the hall, so I let us in. You need a new lock, by the way.

*This rule can be violated for stylistic reasons if the two independent clauses are both very short and if they are of similar construction:

Jayne: How's about you just say a prayer and we slide on by?

Warning: If the subject is not restated or a new subject is not introduced, you have a compound verb, NOT two independent clauses. In this case, do not use a comma.

Daniel: We have a time machine. We can go back and get the ZPM.

2. When a dependent clause comes at the beginning of a sentence, always place a comma between the two clauses. In other words, if your sentence starts with a subordinating conjunction, you will need a comma somewhere in the middle:

Jayne: If there's folks on board who needed help, why aren't they beaming no distress call?

Carter: Since Anubis has no real corporeal form, it's likely he would survive it.

3. When a dependent clause comes after an independent clause in a sentence, there is an optional comma before the subordinating conjunction. Sometimes this comma is necessary for clarity, and sometimes it is just a question of personal taste.

River: I function like I'm a girl. I hate it because I know it'll go away.

River: They'll just keep coming, until they get back what you took.

But those aren't the only uses for conjunctions! Sometimes conjunctions are used to connect nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs instead of whole clauses. When there are only two items in a series, do not use a comma, no matter how long each item is:

Merlin: Only those with wealth of knowledge and truth of spirit shall be given access to the underworld, the storehouse of riches of Ambrosius Aurelianus.

House: As far as I know, Catholic foster houses and monestaries do not keep tattoo parlours in their refectories.

When there are three or more items in a series, the items before the conjunction should be separated from each other by commas, and there is an optional comma preceding the conjunction.

House: Oh God! I'll look on Alpha Centauri, you look on Tatooine, and Cameron can set up an intergalactic checkpoint.

Jayne: All the protein, vitamins and carbs of your grandma's best turkey dinner, plus fifteen percent alcohol.

(This optional comma is sometimes called an Oxford comma and is the subject of great debate among grammarians. Some editors insist upon using it; some editors insist upon omitting it. In informal writing, its usage is up to the writer's discretion, but there are some instances in which it is preferable for clarity. In general, the best guideline is consistency.)

Conjunctions are used so frequently and in so many different capacities that it's difficult to examine all of them and their relationships to commas. The rules above will give you a good start, but at times when you're not sure, a good test may be to see whether your sentence makes sense without the comma. Commas also have many roles, but one of the most common is to separate for the sake of clarity. If the sentence is clear without the separation, the comma may not be necessary.
Tags: !answer, author:redatdawn, author:superhero_specs, punctuation, structure:sentences

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