Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Commas, Part 2

Separating Clauses in Complex Sentences

In Part 1 of our series on commas, we talked about clauses, and about how important it is to recognize a clause when you see one because that's one of the ways to know whether you need to use a comma.

Look again at the above sentence. Were you itching to put a comma in before the word "because"? If so, that's probably because you're still thinking that a comma always marks a pause, and I warned you that thinking that way would get you into trouble. Granted: if you were an actor doing a line reading, you'd want to insert a pause before "because" so as to break the sentence up and make it more digestible for the listener. That's perfectly reasonable for spoken English, but it would be ungrammatical in proper written English.

The first sentence of this post is a complex sentence. Let's talk a bit about sentence types—simple, compound, complex—before we get into commas.

A simple sentence has a subject and a predicate—it's just one clause, and that's it. The subject could be a single subject, or it could be a compound subject. The predicate (i.e., the verb part of the sentence, where all the action is happening) could be a single predicate, or it could be a compound predicate. Let me show you some examples of these concepts before we go further.

SINGLE SUBJECT: Tom sharted in class. (Tom)
COMPOUND SUBJECT: Tom and Darlene sharted in class. (Tom + Darlene)

SINGLE PREDICATE: The class screamed as one. (screamed)
COMPOUND PREDICATE: The class screamed as one and bolted out of the room. (screamed + bolted)

Tom and Darlene sharted in class and cackled evilly.
(Tom + Darlene, sharted + cackled)

The above sentence, despite having both a compound subject and a compound predicate, is NOT a compound sentence: it's a simple sentence. How do you know? Because it has only one clause. Compound sentences come next.

A compound sentence has at least two independent clauses. These clauses can be separated by either a semicolon or a comma-conjunction, as discussed in Part 1.

NOT COMPOUND: Tom and Darlene farted and belched in harmony.
COMPOUND (1): Tom farted; Darlene belched in harmony. (semicolon)
COMPOUND (2): Tom farted, and Darlene belched in harmony. (comma-and)

As mentioned, we've already covered the need for a comma in such situations in Part 1, so let's move on to complex sentences.

A complex sentence has at least one independent clause and one dependent (subordinate) clause. If a sentence has a subordinating conjunction in it (such as if, when, because, though, although, until, before, after, that, which, etc.), then it's a complex sentence.

Complex sentences can normally be written at least two ways: with the subordinate clause first, or with the subordinate clause last. The rule is this:

If the subordinate clause comes first, PUT A COMMA AT THE END OF THE CLAUSE.
The Brits, in particular, seem to hate doing this, so please ignore their punctuational barbarity (yes: punctuational is a word). I'm pretty sure that this rule actually originated in the British Isles, where they used to over-punctuate everything, but I suppose the Brits themselves have moved on. Now, it's up to us uncultured Yanks to carry the torch.

Here are some examples of when a complex sentence needs a comma. The subordinating conjunction has been put into boldface to make it easier to see what's going on.

Because he had an uncontrollable armpit fetish, Zack was fired from the children's show.
If I punch you in the gut, I'll cure your constipation.
Although Carl definitely like salted-caramel Oreos, he preferred women's nipples.
When I look into your eyes, I see alligators.
Before I flay off your skin, I want you to know this is purely for scientific purposes.

Here are some examples of when a complex sentence doesn't need a comma. As before, the subordinating conjunction has been put into boldface. Note the different location of the dependent clause!

Alexis stamped on the cockroach because its name had the word "cock" in it.
Babies can be punted pretty far if you inflate them with a bicycle pump first.
The terrorists will shoot all the hostages unless you hand over 50 kilos of peanut butter.
I'll send you a pic of my lubed-up grandmother when you send me a pic of your depilated Uncle Enos.
Karen somehow ate her way out of the elephant carcass before Niko could finish reciting the Bhagavad Gita.

So as you see, when it comes to complex sentences, if you focus on where the subordinating conjunction is located, that location will give you a clue as to whether or not you need to slap a comma onto that sentence. If the conjunction comes first, use a comma. Simple enough, ja?

independent clause
dependent/subordinate clause
subordinating conjunction
compound subject
compound predicate
simple sentence
compound sentence
complex sentence

Identify what kind of sentences these are: simple, compound, or complex.

1. Mark and John have itchy assholes because they just got out of prison.
2. Taryn, Jessica, and Brenda drank a keg dry, vomited lustily, got into their jeep, and drove into a wall.
3. Whenever Barton sings, I feel ants crawling all over my fucking scrotum.
4. Barry stalked Emily at school; Emily stalked Barry online.
5. The leper didn't mind offering her johns a scab/pustulation discount on Wednesdays.

[ANSWERS (highlight to see): 1. complex; 2. simple; 3. complex; 4. compound; 5. simple]

How many clauses are in each sentence?

1. I don't know who that is.
2. Before Sandy got married, she used to be a titanic slut.
3. The friend I hate the most is coming to that party.
4. Sandy drunkenly told us she had no idea where we were.
5. Bilbo told Smaug that the reptilian beast was the goddamn sexiest thing he had ever seen.

[ANSWERS (highlight to see): 1. two; 2. two; 3. two; 4. three; 5. three]

Which of the following sentences need commas?

1. Because his porn name was Frank Pole everyone thought he was a blunt-spoken piece of lumber.
2. And if I ever see you again I'll take out my knife and give you four ass cheeks.
3. It's always a good day when the cocaine is fresh and smooth.
4. When Linus found Lucy's Pokémon dildo he demanded to know whether she was hiding anything else because he was secretly excited.
5. Janice taught me how to eat eggs with my ass.

[ANSWERS (highlight to see): 1. needs comma; 2. needs comma; 3. no comma; 4. needs comma; 5. no comma]

Part 3 coming soon.


John Mac said...

I waited an extra day to re-read before taking the quizzes. I'm reminded that I wasn't very good at this back in my school days either. And it would appear that now I've forgotten more than I ever knew.

Which is to say that I failed Quiz 1 and 2.

However, I scored 100% on Quiz 3. And bottom line, that's the important one, right?

Kevin Kim said...

Later today, I'll write up the explanations for the answers to the first two quizzes.

Kevin Kim said...

Seems I failed to keep my promise, and I never wrote up an explanation for the above quizzes. So here goes.

1. This is a complex sentence. We know this because of the subordinating conjunction "because." A complex sentence has both an independent and a dependent clause. A subordinating conjunction means there's a dependent clause. QED.
2. This is a simple sentence that happens to have a compound subject (Taryn, Jessica, and Brenda) and a compound predicate (drank, vomited, and got into).
3. Complex sentence: "Whenever" is your clue. This is a subordinating conjunction introducing a subordinate (dependent) clause.
4. A semicolon separates two independent clauses. A sentence with two independent clauses is a compound sentence.
5. Simple sentence. There's only one subject: "The leper." There's only one predicate: "didn't mind." Nothing else has anything to do with the composition of a clause.

Remember that a clause has a SUBJECT and a PREDICATE (verb).
1. 2 clauses: (1) I + don't know; (2) that + is
2. 2 clauses: (1) Sandy + got married; (2) she + used to be
3. 2 clauses: (1) The friend... + is coming; (2) I + hate
4. 3 clauses: (1) Sandy... told; (2) she had; (3) we were
5. 3 clauses: (1) Bilbo told; (2) beast was; (3) he had... seen

1. Comma after "Pole" because subordinate clause comes first.
2. Comma after "again"; same reason.
3. No comma: subordinate clause comes last.
4. Comma after "dildo"; see (1) and (2) above.
5. This sentence is a bit tricky: it's not a complex sentence at all because it has only one clause: "Janice taught." The phrase "how to eat eggs" isn't a clause because it has no subject or predicate! So this is a simple sentence, which needs no comma.