Monster Monday: Monstrous Commas with Conjunctions

Monstrous Monday resumes with that great monster of Punctuation, the Comma: pervasive, ticky and tricky, devious little mark that demands use and hates over-use. Today, we introduce the comma along with its buddy the conjunction.

Alfred Smedburg’s 1912 “Bland tomtar och troll” / public domain image

Function 3: Links that Separate

The Comma

The only punctuation mark more widely used than the comma is the period.

The period means stop. The comma means pause and has this appearance: ,

When you read a sentence aloud, as if you were speaking in a normal conversation, you will hear a slight pause that helps identify where the comma will be placed. That’s a quick way to know when you need to use a comma. The better way is to know and understand the various uses of the comma.

The comma is the true mark that  links and separates. We have journeyed through the unusual colon and the semi-common semicolon. We delayed the comma, remember, to keep learning focused, for once students believe they know something, then they pay no attention. Also, those teaching these links do not realize how much time mastery of the colon and the semicolon will consume.

Both the colon and the semicolon had three separate lessons (without adding Analogies or the Type I errors).

The comma will require five separate lessons.
  • The Common Comma covers nine total uses, divided into 3 common uses and 6 conventional ones (two lessons).
  • Commas also prevent confused reading, serving to group sentence elements together. The semicolon’s use in this manner partially introduces us to this use.
  • The Comma for Clarity continues with phrases and clauses as it separates the non-necessary from the necessary.
  • Finally, we have four marks of punctuation that function like the clarity commas. Indeed, we can almost exchange these for the comma with only a wink and a nod.

Before we launch into discussion of Commas, however—we always have an however, don’t we?—we need to discuss a part of speech: the Conjunction.

Why? Well, the comma most often occurs with a conjunction.

Conjunction Junction

In Semicolons, at Conjunctivitis and in Type I Errors, we presented the Conjunctive Adverb used in joining two sentences.

Any conjunction conjoins. We have three types.

1] Coordinating Conjunction

Simple linkers, these are used with single words, phrases, and sentences. Coordinating conjunctions are basic. We sometimes refer to them with the mnemonic device that helps use remember all seven: FANBOYS

For       And     Nor      But      Or        Yet      So

I didn’t learn the memory device until I began teaching, so I had a different way to remember.

  • We can always remember and.
  • The opposite of and is but.
  • We can’t start a sentence with but, but we can with yet.
  • The 3 rhymers are or / nor / for.
  • And so.

FANBOYS is much easier.

2] Correlative Conjunction

Correlative means having a mutual relationship or shared connection. These conjunctions come in pairs and once have two words on both sides.

Either / Or       Neither / Nor               Whether / Or

Both / And      Not only / But also

The correlative works exactly like the coordinating with one extra direction: the items on both sides should be equivalent, positive or negative.

Herbert Schmidt not only conducted the Century City Orchestra but also directed the Operatic Players Society.

Maintain a parallel weight with the correlative:  not only conducted goes with but also directed.

Both mothers and their daughters will attend the afternoon tea at the historical society.

Either I will have to coach the team, or an outside coach will have to found.

3] Subordinating Conjunction

The Subordinating Conjunction is not like the coordinating and correlative conjunctions. Only in one instance will it require a comma.

Subordinate means lesser, and anything subordinate must be attached to a greater.

These conjunctions are used to introduce subordinate clauses. My mother was not taught the words subordinate or clause; she learned dependent sentence. Sometimes I think some idiot in an ivory tower gave difficult names to grammar terms just to make people think it was arcane knowledge that only a privileged few could understand through the use of a magical key.

It’s not arcane knowledge. It does not a magical key.

Grammar is complex. It has a lot of rules and exceptions to rules that create irksome and ticky details. We have encountered these several times, and we’re just focusing on punctuation.

With all the rules and exceptions and tickiness, do we need a magical language to open up this arcane knowledge? No. And my rant is partially over. (I don’t think that it will ever be completely over.”

Clause = Sentence (the perfect example to prove my rant)

Subordinate = lesser = Dependent

Both lesser and dependent mean that this statement now depends upon another statement; it no longer will stand alone. It needs another. It has lost its independence.

A complete sentence requires a Subject and a Verb with all their modifiers, phrases, and other additions. Without a Subject and a Verb, the sentence will not make sense. Sentence, in its very name, suggests that the complete idea—expressed through the S and V—must make sense.

The tricky thing about subordinate clauses is that only one small addition makes them dependent.  One little word has caused it to lose its independence. Remove that little word, and independence is restored. The little word that causes this enslavement to another sentence is called the subordinate conjunction.

Here’s a short list of subordinate conjunctions. Notice how many are consequential (because is a cause/consequence word) or relate to a cause / effect relationship. If and although demand the second element. Consider each word’s meaning, and you will understand how it creates the dependence.

A List of 50 Subordinate Conjunctions
After Even if Lest So that Where
Although Even though Now Supposing Whereas
As if How Now since Than Where if
As long as If Now that That Wherever
As much as If only Now when Though Whether
As soon as If when Once Till Which
As though If then Provided Unless While
Because In as much as Provided that Until Who
Before In order that Rather than When Whoever
Even Just as Since Whenever why

Notice how many of these are question words.

A special kind of subordinate conjunction is the Relative Pronoun: who / which / that. When these are also the subject of the subordinate clause, you have a Relative Pronoun. In the following example, that refers to Jack and is the subject of the verb fell.

Jack was the young man that fell down the hill.

On that note, we’re ready to start talking about commas, the true link that separates.

Join us next Monday.

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