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The joining comma is only slightly different from the listing comma. It
used to join two complete sentences into a single sentence, and it must be
followed by a suitable connecting word. The connecting words which can be
used in this way are and, or, but, while and yet. Here are some examples:
Remember, as I pointed out earlier, you cannot join two
sentences with a comma unless you also use one of these connecting words.
All of the following examples are therefore wrong:
- Norway has applied to join the EC, and Sweden is expected to do the
- You must hand in your essay by Friday, or you will receive a mark of
- Britain has long been isolated in Europe, but now she is beginning to
- Billions of dollars have been hurled into the Star Wars projects, yet we
appear to have nothing to show for this colossal expenditure.
- A dropped goal counts three points in rugby union, while in rugby
league it only counts one point.
Joining two complete sentences with a comma in this way is one of the
commonest of all punctuation errors, but one of the easiest to avoid if you pay
little attention to what you're writing. Either you must follow the comma with
one of the connecting words listed above, or you must replace the comma with
- *Bangladesh is one of the world's poorest countries, its annual income
is only $80 per person.
- *The British are notoriously bad at learning foreign languages, the
Dutch are famously good at it.
- *The proposal to introduce rock music to Radio 3 has caused an
outcry, angry letters have been pouring into the BBC.
- *Borg won his fifth straight Wimbledon title in 1980, the following year
he lost in the final to McEnroe.
Note also that most other connecting words cannot be preceded by a
joining comma. For example, the connecting words however, therefore, hence,
consequently, nevertheless and thus cannot be used after a
Hence the following examples are also wrong:
Sentences like these once again require, not a comma, but
- *Saturn was long thought to be the only ringed planet, however, this is
now known not to be the case.
- *Two members of the expedition were too ill to continue, nevertheless
the others decided to press on.
- *Liverpool are five points behind the leaders, therefore they must win
both their remaining games.
The rule is again easy:
- • Use a joining comma to join two complete sentences with
one of the words and, or, but, yet or while.
use a joining comma in any other way.
Copyright © Larry Trask, 1997