The Semicolon and the Colon - Internet Scoping School

The Semicolon and the Colon

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  • Lesley says:

    Hi. I just finished Quiz 2 and I have a question about #3 in which we were instructed to punctuate the following sentence: “We were in Hawaii for two weeks but it rained constantly”. I did not put a comma before the word “but” because I referred to Rule 19, Caution B, in my Morson’s Guide which says a semicolon is not used if there is a coordinating conjunction between the independent clauses, and a comma MAY be used if either clause exceeds five words. Was I wrong to not use a comma, or is it an acceptable alternative way to punctuate? Thanks!

    • lindae says:

      Actually, a comma is not required. Rule 19 does say a comma may be used, but Rule 42 Note says “If the two clauses are short (five words or less for each clause), do not use any punctuation before the conjunction.” So the best way to go is to ask your clients. I have reporters who often put in commas, especially before short “but” clauses: “We enjoyed our trip to Mexico, but it rained constantly.” That looks fine to me, but technically, the comma could be omitted. So the answer is…maybe? It looks like a case could be made for either.

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