comma before 'but' [conjunction]: said it was blue, but it was red

Christhiane

Senior Member
English
I have some questions concerning the use of punctation in English grammar.



1. If you are to say e.g.:
'She received a letter, too.'
Must/should you have the comma there?


2. If you are to use the word 'but' should you use the comma as you would with the word 'and'? By this I mean that when you use 'and' between two clauses you need to have a comma before 'and,' but if you have an clause and one phrase, you don't use a comma.

Is what I've said here correct?



3. I wonder at the use of apostrophe in genetive. I've tried to figure it out, but I can't seem to on my own. E.g. the examples in my Oxford Advanced dictionary say:
My friend's brother
the waitress's apron
King James's crown/James' crown
The students' books
the women's coats

Now, I've learnt that if there's an 's' at the end of a word you only put an apostrophe and no 's' at the end. However, here 'waitress's' has an extra 's' while 'students'' don't. Further, the it says that you can say either 'James's' or 'James'.' From this I understand that either:

a) How you do it optional as long as you are consistent.

b) 1. If the word is singular, you must have an 's' after the apostrophe.
2. If it is a name, you can choose whether or not to have an 's' after the apostorphe.
3. If a word is plural, you are not to have an 's' after the apostrophe.
 
  • MrPedantic

    Senior Member
    UK, English
    Hello Christhiane

    My own tendency, which may well be a sign of weak-wittedness, is to use the comma to denote a pause, or to mark the cadence of a sentence.

    Sometimes the sense or the natural cadence of a phrase requires a pause before a "but" or an "and"; sometimes it doesn't. And sometimes that pause will fall between two clauses; and sometimes it will fall between a clause and a phrase.

    This conflicts with the teachings of secretarial schools, but not necessarily with the practice of English writers.

    MrP
     

    Christhiane

    Senior Member
    English
    If you are to use the word 'but' should you use the comma as you would with the word 'and'? By this I mean that when you use 'and' between two clauses you need to have a comma before 'and,' but if you have an clause and one phrase, you don't use a comma.

    Is what I've said here correct?
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    This is the same question as you asked before - the threads have been merged.

    You do not need a comma before and.
    You may choose to use a comma before and (see above).

    Often, I would not want to use a comma before and.
    I would be more likely to use a comma before but, I think.

    Please give us some examples.
     

    Christhiane

    Senior Member
    English
    I didn't see that the thread had been split up at once, sorry.

    Examples:
    She said it was blue, but it was red.
    It wasn't blue but red.

    Is that correct usage, or should the comma in the first example be omitted?
     

    elroy

    Imperfect mod
    US English, Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Christhiane said:
    I didn't see that the thread had been split up at once, sorry.

    Examples:
    She said it was blue, but it was red.
    It wasn't blue but red.

    Is that correct usage, or should the comma in the first example be omitted?

    Usually, independent clauses separated by a coordinating conjunction should have a comma before the conjunction - to help the reader by signaling where one clause ends and the other begins. However, if the clauses are sufficiently short for the meaning to be clear enough, a comma is not necessary. In your first sentence, I could go either way.

    A comma in the second sentence would be too much for me. I would write the sentence without it.

    Ultimately, in English, it comes down to making the meaning of the sentence as clear as possible. There are very few hard and fast rules for comma usage.

    In short, the answer to your question is that "but" behaves pretty much the same way as "and." The rules/tendencies/preferences regarding comma usage are the same regardless of the coordinating conjunction you choose to use.
     

    rsweet

    Senior Member
    English, North America
    Hi Christine,

    I agree with Elroy that comma rules always bow to clarity, but the rules themselves are pretty straightforward. Relying on just a "pause" is generally a bad idea.

    Use a comma before conjunctions when they connect two independent clauses (complete sentences). If you're just listing things (3 or more), people are pretty much split as to whether to use a comma before the final "and." I almost always prefer the comma in a list because it clarifies meaning. "The kids ate candy, cake and peanut butter at the party." sounds as if the cake was slathered with peanut butter.

    Most careful writers put a comma before "too" when it means "also." "I want to go, too."

    You also use a comma before a direct address. "Please feed the tiger, Bob." Without the comma, the sentence could mean that Bob was the Tiger's main course.

    As far as using an apostrophe to show possession, you put the apostrophe before the "s" to show singular possession. If the word ends with an "s," you add an apostrophe "s" -- "James's car." The only tricky part with this one is if the additional "s" is pretty much unpronounceable; then you put the apostrophe after the "s"-- "Jesus' robes." This last one is pretty much up for grabs as there will always be someone who says, "I can say "Jesus's" without any difficulty at all."

    Plural possession requires that the apostrophe be put after the final "s"-- "the boys' toys."

    Good writers break grammar rules all the time, but there should be a reason for doing so.
     

    MrPedantic

    Senior Member
    UK, English
    It's also useful to be aware of the differences in American and British habits of punctuation.

    For instance, the punctuation here would be more likely to appear in a British text (with the exception of those published by the Oxford University Press, Penguin, and some others):

    1. I bought some apples, oranges, pears and pineapples.

    Whereas this version would be more common in the US:

    2. I bought some apples, oranges, pears, and pineapples.

    (For my own part, I prefer the #2 punctuation, for the reasons rsweet suggests; but this is a minority view in the UK.)

    It seems to me that (in the UK, at least) there's a further division between those who punctuate on the basis of 1) how the text sounds 2) how the text looks.

    MrP
     

    Christhiane

    Senior Member
    English
    Thank you for your comments, Rsweet.

    And thanks to you, too, MrPedantic. I strongly prefer the first example, and since I write BrE I'll stick with that unless I need the comma to avoid ambiguity.
     

    Isotta

    Senior Member
    English, Hodgepodge
    MrPedantic said:
    1. I bought some apples, oranges, pears and pineapples.

    Whereas this version would be more common in the US:

    2. I bought some apples, oranges, pears, and pineapples.
    That used to be the story, I think, but it is démodé now. I learnt version one at an American high school.
     

    MrPedantic

    Senior Member
    UK, English
    Hello Isotta

    Thanks for the update. I had noticed less frequent use of the serial comma in AmE emails and business texts; but it seemed to me to predominate in e.g. AmE academic texts.

    I'd be interested to know whether the Chicago Manual of Style's comments on commas at:

    http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/cmosfaq/cmosfaq.html

    represent a minority viewpoint now.

    MrP

    _______

    Edit: I should have mentioned that the CMOS doesn't seem to let you capture a link to a specific FAQ page. For the "commas" FAQs, enter "comma" in the search box at the above link.
     

    rsweet

    Senior Member
    English, North America
    Hi Mr. P

    My copy of The Chicago Manual of Style recommends the comma before the conjunction when listing a series of three or more elements.
     

    Isotta

    Senior Member
    English, Hodgepodge
    True. And The New Yorker's (albeit odd) style guide likewise uses the extra comma. MLA, too. And Turabian (not the AP, for what it's worth).

    But I think at this point, if it's even conscious, it's a conscious choice. You pick one. You'll notice other readers with questions mention that they're "devoted to the serial comma," because they know it's the CMS, and because it's falling out of fashion. In academic texts, I see it less and less. At the American high school, the teacher had discouraged it, calling it "provincial."

    So, yes, you will still see the serial comma in America, but less often these days. On the academic level, at least in the humanities, I think people see it as a conscious choice.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Here is a UK Punctuation Guide's view on the listing comma.

    In summary:
    Use a listing comma in a list wherever you could conceivably use the word and (or or) instead. Do not use a listing comma anywhere else.

    Put a listing comma before and or or only if this is necessary to make your meaning clear.
     

    Txiri

    Senior Member
    USA English
    Oh my gosh, coma-tology. I don´t have anything to add to this mess, apart from: yes, I´ve noticed too (noticed, too) that American usage is beginning to follow the European of omitting the comma before the last in a series. I daresay the mavens of "correct usage" in the Ivory Tower will continue to demand it for years to come, in non APA and other stylistic fields.

    The important thing when one writes is to be clear. Your readers should not stumble or fumble for what you were trying to say. If you are writing for someone who cares about the rules, you better stick to the rules that THEY cherish.

    PS I love grammar and talking about it, so please no one take offense at my half witten pun.
     

    river

    Senior Member
    U.S. English
    At the very least, the serial comma should be used if any item in a series already contains the word and or or:
    My favorite letters are a and b, c and g, and x and y.

    Also if the items are long, or if each item would stand as a complete sentence:
    I like coffee, I like tea, and I like soda.

    But the serial comma is always correct, at least in AE.
     

    MrPedantic

    Senior Member
    UK, English
    ...This conflicts with the teachings of secretarial schools...

    ..."provincial"...

    Neither approach is intrinsically better than the other, of course. No doubt the serial comma will return to favour, one day; or some other method will displace the comma-omissive approach; and then another poster will be deriding the "secretarial schools" for their quaint adherence to the latter...

    MrP
     
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