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#1
Old 01-23-2007, 08:44 AM
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Proper Punctuation for a Sentence with Three Independent Clauses

What's the proper way to punctuate the following sentence: "I went to the store but they were out of donuts so I bought a bagel." It seems like it should be one sentence, but there are three independent clauses. If there were two commas ("I went to the store, but they were out of donuts, so I bought a bagel."), wouldn't it be a run on? Breaking them up with a period would change the flow and tone: "I went to the store, but they were out of donuts. So I bought a bagel." That just doesn't seem right. Or does "they were out of donuts" modify "store", so it ought to be, "I went to the store but they were out of donuts, so I bought a bagel."
#2
Old 01-23-2007, 09:53 AM
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Well, the most important thing in punctuation isn't following some law; the most important thing is making sure that people understand what you're trying to say and what emphasis you want to put on something.
In this case, I'd say a sentence fragment "So I bought a bagel." would be confusing and interrup the flow, so I wouldn't go that route.
If you're keeping all three clauses in the sentence, I prefer two commas to give the reader a chance to pause before each independent thought: "I went to the store, but they were out of donuts, so I bought a bagel."
Now, you're right, some people might call this is a run-on, and I'd say they might have a point. It doesn't build up an interesting or easy rhythm like that. This is completely a judgement call, though. For transcribing someone speaking, it might even be the most accurate.
However the only cure for a run on is slightly rewriting things, so you don't have three completely independent clauses. You can do it different ways depending on what you wanted to emphasize.

"When I went to the store, they were out of donuts, so I bought a bagel."

"I went to the store. Since they were out of donuts, I bought a bagel."

"I went to the store, but they were out of donuts! I had to settle for a bagel."


Hmm, sorry about the lecture. Guess it's time to cut down on the coffee.
#3
Old 01-23-2007, 09:59 AM
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Commas between all of your independent clauses is correct.

I went to the store, but they were out of donuts, so I had to settle for a bagel.

A run-on sentence would be the above, sans punctuation:

I went to the store they were out of donuts I had to settle for a bagel.

And just to be pedantic, commas with no conjunctions would cause what we in the biz refer to as a "comma splice", and would also be incorrect:

I went to the store, they were out of donuts, I had to settle for a bagel.

I would bet $5 that there is some egregious grammatical or spelling error somewhere in this post, because that is the way of the world.
#4
Old 01-23-2007, 10:07 AM
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would you really use a comma before the "but"? Doesn't the but bring his own comma, so to speak?
#5
Old 01-23-2007, 10:09 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nobody Special
What's the proper way to punctuate the following sentence: "I went to the store but they were out of donuts so I bought a bagel." It seems like it should be one sentence, but there are three independent clauses. If there were two commas ("I went to the store, but they were out of donuts, so I bought a bagel."), wouldn't it be a run on? Breaking them up with a period would change the flow and tone: "I went to the store, but they were out of donuts. So I bought a bagel." That just doesn't seem right. Or does "they were out of donuts" modify "store", so it ought to be, "I went to the store but they were out of donuts, so I bought a bagel."

Well, Purdue says
Quote:
1. Use commas to separate independent clauses when they are joined by any of these seven coordinating conjunctions: and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet.
I thought I'd been taught that you use commas instead of conjunctions so I'd have left it as it was. I'll poke around more and see why I thought that. Maybe it's in someone else's rules.
#6
Old 01-23-2007, 10:20 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nobody Special
If there were two commas ("I went to the store, but they were out of donuts, so I bought a bagel."), wouldn't it be a run on?
No, it's still just one thought, and punctuated correctly.
#7
Old 01-23-2007, 10:25 AM
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Ah. If the independent clauses are short and balanced, commas can be left out. I'd not put commas in that sentence because, to me, it makes the sentence sound breathless and rushed. If the sentence was 'I walked five blocks to the store for a doughnut, but they were out of doughnuts so I bought a bagel instead' I'd use a comma between the first two phrases but not the final two because of the 'short and balanced' thing.
#8
Old 01-23-2007, 10:30 AM
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For clarity, you separate independent clauses with commas: "I don't know, I' don't care, and neither should you." But relatively short independent clauses will sometimes appear without commas, simply because the comma reproduces the pause in speech between them, which is not present in those short utterances. "I looked for a cop but they were all on coffee break." A comma after "cop" is completely optional here.

When the independent clauses are long, and especially when they have matter set off with commas, use semicolons to separate them, with or without conjunctions: "Jerry, the boss's son, said he wasn't going; neither was Timmy; but the oldest of the three, Joe, said that he planned to attend." And, of course, if the sentence becomes unwieldy, it may be best to recast it as two or three separate sentences: "Mrs. Owlet said that she planned to drop off her laundry before buying her week's groceries, Mrs. Moocow said that she intended to stay at home, and Mrs. Frogworthy had a full day planned, with visits to the beauty parlor, the library, and the Junior League." There is nothing inthe world wrong with revising this to put periods after "groceries" and "home" -- at which point the "and" becomes purely optional and may well be omitted.
#9
Old 01-23-2007, 10:48 AM
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What about

I went to the store, but they were out of donuts—so I bought a bagel.
#10
Old 01-23-2007, 10:55 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Quercus
<snip>
However the only cure for a run on is slightly rewriting things, so you don't have three completely independent clauses. You can do it different ways depending on what you wanted to emphasize.

"When I went to the store, they were out of donuts, so I bought a bagel."

"I went to the store. Since they were out of donuts, I bought a bagel."

"I went to the store, but they were out of donuts! I had to settle for a bagel."

...
"They were out of donuts at the store, so I bought a bagel."

"I went to the store, but they were out of donuts; so I bought a bagel."

In this particular example, there are several ways to rewrite the statements to solve the problem in the OP. In general... umm... see above posts?
#11
Old 01-23-2007, 11:35 AM
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Quote:
Sentence with Three Independent Clauses
They had an Xmas album but the soloists kept stepping on each other.
#12
Old 01-23-2007, 12:01 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Pygmy Rugger
"I went to the store, but they were out of donuts; so I bought a bagel."
This one feels off, because you're separating part of the thought from the rest of it. Plus, "so I bought a bagel" could stand on its own, but would you want it to?
#13
Old 01-23-2007, 12:38 PM
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"alas, no donut but bagel" should do just fine.
#14
Old 01-23-2007, 01:10 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gigi
This one feels off, because you're separating part of the thought from the rest of it. Plus, "so I bought a bagel" could stand on its own, but would you want it to?
Doh! I meant:

I went to the store; they were out of..., so I...

Part of what I was thinking (and obviously I was having a total brain fart, because I didn't even come close to conveying it!) was that it's pretty obvious that you went to the store, because that's where bagels come from. Even if you get it from a bakery, that's still a store, I'd say.

So much for the new edit feature eliminating stoopid mistakes!
#15
Old 01-23-2007, 02:48 PM
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Copy editor here, and I would not use a comma before the "but". (Or at least, I would have done a few years ago but have seen them removed by my superiors so many times that I now no longer put them in.)

Assuming no rewriting of the sentence, we would pass it as:

"I went to the store but they were out of doughnuts, so I bought a bagel."

Or of course you could rework it entirely. How about a haiku?

Set forth for the store
Alack! No doughnuts in stock
Dull round bread made do
#16
Old 01-23-2007, 02:49 PM
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If you're wondering about dashes and semicolons, the rule of thumb is that you can use a dash anywhere you'd use a comma, and you can use a semicolon anywhere that you'd use a period. The meaning will be slightly changed, but the grammar is (almost) the same.
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#17
Old 01-23-2007, 03:20 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chronos
If you're wondering about dashes and semicolons, the rule of thumb is that you can use a dash anywhere you'd use a comma, and you can use a semicolon anywhere that you'd use a period. The meaning will be slightly changed, but the grammar is (almost) the same.
Dashes seem to be undergoing something of a revival. Some of our writers like to use a pair of them in every other sentence — so they can just shoehorn yet another clause in, like this one, without having to think about sentence structure — and I have to lop at least half of them out because they look ugly on the page if there are too many of them.

Semicolons, on the other hand, I hardly ever have to remove; however, I often find writers using whole colons where there ought to be a semi.

Last edited by Colophon; 01-23-2007 at 03:21 PM. Reason: missed out a comma wouldn'tcha know :-/
#18
Old 01-23-2007, 04:34 PM
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I confess to being a dash abuser. I'm trying to kick it, but they look so much neater for an almost-parenthetical statement than mere commas.
Quote:
Originally Posted by gigi
This one feels off, because you're separating part of the thought from the rest of it. Plus, "so I bought a bagel" could stand on its own, but would you want it to?
Better treatment of a semi-colon would be:

'I went to the store, but they were out of donuts; I bought a bagel.'

I like that because it contains an implication of a beat, akin to comic timing, on the speaker's part. Of course a full stop (period) would do too.
#19
Old 01-23-2007, 05:59 PM
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I read this thread. I even posted to this thread (look at my posting rate... I'm not exactly prolific). I just sent the following sentence to a client.

"I'd really like to rotate some of the questions though--we just got our first counterintuitive result, based on a question that, given the conversations I've had with EO staff, may have been cut."

Who's rewl did eye just violait in reel lyfe?
#20
Old 01-24-2007, 07:46 AM
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Lynne Truss has a great deal to say about commas in her book "Eats, Shoots & Leaves." A sample: "...feelings run high about the comma. When it comes to improving the clarity of a sentence, you can nearly always argue that one should go in; you can nearly always argue that one should come out. Stylists have meanwhile always dickered with the rules: Oscar Wilde famouly spent all day on a completed poem, dangling a questionable comma over it; Gertrude Stein called the comma 'servile' and refused to have anything to do with it; Peter Carey cleverly won the Booker Prize in 2001 for a book that contained no commas at all (True History of the Kelly Gang); and I have seen an essay on the internet seriously accusing John Updike, that wicked man, of bending the rules of the comma to his own ends 'with fragments, comma splices, coordinate clauses without commas, ellipted coordinate clauses with commas, and more' -- charges to which, of course, those of us with no idea what an ellipted-coordinate-clause-with-a-comma might look like can only comment, 'Tsk.'"

My personal choice would be to say:

I went to the store, but they were out of donuts so I bought I bagel.

I can't work up a lot of froth around the mouth if others make different choices, however. Clarity and common sense should be our primary guides in matters of grammar and punctuation, followed by style and taste.

Last edited by CairoCarol; 01-24-2007 at 07:48 AM.
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