How to use commas between clauses (Simple rules + examples)

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One of the trickiest things in English is knowing where to put commas. Unfortunately, commas have many different uses, so there are lots of rules to remember. And even then, there are lots of exceptions!

Thankfully, in one situation, there are some simple rules. This is when commas are used with independent and dependent clauses.

Table of Contents

  • What is an independent clause?
  • What is a dependent clause?
  • How to tell the difference between independent and dependent clauses
  • How to use commas with independent and dependent clauses
  • Conclusion

What is an independent clause?

Sentences consist of either independent or dependent clauses.

An independent clause can be its own, independent sentence.

Examples:

  1. I like dogs
  2. That is a great house
  3. We often go to the movies

What is a dependent clause?

A dependent clause cannot be its own sentence.

Examples:

  1. Behind the house
  2. Because I'm sick
  3. In order to do well on the test tomorrow
  4. Speaking of good places to visit in winter

How to tell the difference between independent and dependent clauses

It's easy. Just take a clause and put a period at the end. Is it a complete sentence? If yes, it's an independent clause. If no, it's a dependent clause.

How to use commas with independent and dependent clauses

When you combine multiple clauses to create a sentence, there are clear rules that dictate what punctuation you need:

1) Independent clause + independent clause

In between the independent clauses, you need one of the following: a period, a colon, a semicolon, or a coordinating conjunction with a comma. The following examples are all grammatically correct.

  1. I like dogs. I don't like cats.
  2. I like dogs: I don't like cats.
  3. I like dogs; I don't like cats.
  4. I like dogs, but I don't like cats.

If you put only a comma between two independent clauses, this would be a comma splice, a common grammar mistake.

2) Dependent clause + independent clause (and vice-versa)

In between the clauses, you need a comma. Examples:

  1. Although I like dogs, I don't like cats.
  2. Because I don't like cats, I don't visit Jane's house.

3) Dependent clause + dependent clause

This is impossible! Every sentence must have at least one independent clause :)

Conclusion

With a bit of practice, you'll have these rules memorized. Soon, you'll be able to quickly tell when a phrase is independent or dependent, recall the rules, and confidently know whether you need a comma.

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Happy writing!