I’ve been working on a book while I’ve been sheltering-in-place, and so have several friends who are writers. Because we’ve been seeking feedback from one another, I’ve been reminded of a problem I first noticed years ago.
Here it is: even many professional writers don’t know how to use commas with and and but.
One writer friend sheepishly admitted that her computer kept drawing red lines under sentences with and and but – and she ignored them. She just sprinkled commas into her sentences according to the mood she was in. (Mind you, she’s a professional writer.)
I’m hoping that you – reading this – want to learn the rule for sentences with and or but. It’s easy!
Use a comma if you’re joining two sentences with and or but.
Omit the comma if you don’t have two sentences.
Done! You don’t need grammar gobbledygook about coordinate conjunctions and independent clauses. Think about one sentence/two sentences, and you’ll get it right every time.
I couldn’t get in touch with Jane, but her brother called me back. CORRECT (two sentences)
I couldn’t get in touch with Jane but kept trying to reach her. CORRECT (one sentence)
We invited the couple who lives upstairs, and they brought a bottle of nice wine. CORRECT (two sentences)
The couple who live down the street came over and brought us fresh flowers. CORRECT (one sentence)
* * * * *
It’s easy – honest! After the word and (or but), check to see if you have a new sentence. If you do, use a comma.
How do you know you have a new sentence? It will start with a person, place or thing.
Let’s try two more:
I knocked on her door at one o’clock and went back at four. CORRECT (one sentence)
Jeff came to the door, but Linda wasn’t home. CORRECT (two sentences)
Let’s learn this rule!