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Grammar Tip: Punctuating Compound Sentences vs. Compound Predicates

This week’s tip: punctuating compound sentences vs. compound predicates

First, some explanation of terms:

A compound sentence contains two independent clauses: The horse trotted into the arena, and she jumped all the fences. (“The horse trotted into the arena” and “She jumped all the fences” could each be its own sentence and make sense independently. Each has its own subject and predicate. Therefore, each is an independent clause.)

A compound predicate is a sentence with one subject that governs two verbs. We can make the above example into a compound predicate by removing the “she”: The horse trotted into the arena and jumped all the fences. In this example, “The horse” is the only subject in the sentence, and she is clearly doing both actions of trotting into the arena and jumping the fences.

When punctuating a compound sentence (two independent clauses, as in the first example), you have several choices. Use whatever will flow best in the sentence and the context.

1. The horse trotted into the arena, and she jumped all the fences. In this example, I used a comma and a conjunction: “, and”. Other conjunctions include but, or, nor, for, yet, so. If you go this route, you must use a comma AND the conjunction. The exception is when the sentence is very short and there is no chance of confusion, in which case the comma is optional. I don’t like leaving it out ever, but it is an option: Two horses entered and two horses left. If you join the two independent clauses with a comma but no conjunction, that is called a comma splice and is incorrect.
2. Join the two clauses with a semi-colon (no conjunction): The horse trotted into the arena; she jumped all the fences. Don’t over use this option; it can easily get monotonous and choppy.
3. Make it into two sentences: The horse trotted into the arena. She jumped all the fences. The only problem with this is that if you have a bunch of short sentences, it’s choppy. Using a comma and conjunction allows it to flow a bit more.

When writing a compound predicate, like “The horse trotted into the arena and jumped the fence,” no comma or anything is used. In this example, this would be the less clunky way to write this sentence than as two independent clauses. In other cases, the two clauses need to stay independent. You have to use your judgment, but it’s generally pretty clear.

Now, let’s get some practice. Punctuate the following sentences and post your answer in the comments, and I’ll let you know if you got it right.

Danny liked designing the courses at Woodside he said it was a nice venue.
The rider fell off her horse and got a concussion.
The judge thought the class was good and she gave everyone good scores.

Comments? Questions?

2 Responses to “Grammar Tip: Punctuating Compound Sentences vs. Compound Predicates”

  1. Excellent explanations. They warm my heart.

    The shame is that more clear, in my view, correct explanations (or more to the point, better “compliance” by writers generally) are rare. I may lean toward the “precriptivist” school, but I’m probably more accurately characterized as someone who falls within what is perhaps the school of “preferred” usage. The so-called “descriptivists” probably would be well-advised to be at least knowledgeable of the main conventions of usage.

    I would like to cite your website in a relevant part of my website — with your permission.

    I hope that I do these to your satisfaction:
    Danny liked designing the courses at Woodside. [H]e said it was a nice venue. [or: "; he . . ."]

    The rider fell off her horse and got a concussion. [Probably fine as is, unless the horse got the concussion. So I'd answer: ", and she got ..." or better ", and the rider got ..." in case the horse is female. But what do I know; I majored in applied physics and mechanical engineering as an undergraduate.]

    The judge thought the class was good, and she gave everyone good scores. [or: "; she gave ..."]

    Best wishes,
    RDG

  2. Dear Jennifer:

    I just looked at the rest of your site. Probably should have scoped things out first.

    I may not have the time to complete some written works in progress, but I’m planning to do so. Still, I am glad that I saw your “Jennifer Walker Writing Services” site in case that I feel the need for assistance on a book or an article.

    RDG
    10/19/2012

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