The Marriage of Independent Clauses

by | Nov 12, 2015 | Commas | 0 comments

Lately, marriage has been a hot topic in the news and media. Individuals, activist groups, and even businesses are taking a stance on the issue. Now it’s my turn. I want to address the marriage of independent clauses in a sentence. Essentially, an independent clause could stand completely alone as a functioning sentence. However, sometimes people want to combine two clauses into a single sentence, and that is where all of the trouble begins.


Keep it Simple

The simplest way to group two independent clauses is to keep them completely separate. End the first clause with a period and begin the second one with a capital letter. Avoiding fancy wording and punctuation keeps each sentence simple and easy to follow. For example:

There are a lot of different skateboards on the market. Their materials range from bamboo to carbon fiber.

Still, it is important to recognize that there are advantages to combining two independent clauses into a single sentence, especially when they are closely related.

Use Coordinating Conjunctions

One of the most popular ways to combine two independent clauses is to use a coordinating conjunction (and, or, but, nor, for, yet, so). The thing that trips many writers up is correct comma usage. The comma should always be placed before the coordinating conjunction (NOT after). For example:

Longboards come in several different shapes, but the most basic is the classic pintail.

Combining two independent clauses using a comma without a coordinating conjunction is a comma splice and should be avoided.

Longboards come in several different shapes, the most basic is the classic pintail. 

Try a Semicolon

Using a semicolon here and there can add variety and a little extra pizazz to an article, as long as it is used in moderation. This type of sentence is what the semicolon was made for. Here is an example:

I love coasting down a smooth road with the wind in my face; nothing compares to the rush I get from longboarding.

Note that the word following the semicolon should not be capitalized, unless it would always have a capital letter like with a location or a proper noun, for example.

Throw Down a Transitional Phrase

By far, the most complex way to combine two independent clauses is to use a conjunctive adverb or other transitional phrase. Words such as however, furthermore, on the contrary, nevertheless, or likewise really make a statement. However, incorrect punctuation can seriously undermine the intended impact. Always precede the transitional expression with a semicolon and follow it with a comma, as shown below:

The new carbon fiber longboard decks have very little flex; nevertheless, they offer unbeatable shock absorption.

Choose Wisely

Periods, commas, and semicolons all present different methods for handling independent clauses, especially for those who want to add some variety to their writing. By understanding the different ways to “marry” two independent clauses into a single sentence, writers never need to sacrifice clarity for complexity.

If you have any tips or questions about properly combining independent clauses, I’d love to hear from you below!

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