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As you begin to learn a language, you start small. Words have one syllable. Sentences are short and basic. There is nothing wrong with keeping your words and phrases simple. People will understand you. However, you know that people don’t really speak in short sentences all the time. It just isn’t easy to know how to link short sentences together properly. Well, here are a few simple rules and methods to help you.
Let’s begin with two short sentences.
We call these independent clauses, because they can stand on their own without needing to be conjoined. Now, let’s say that you want to combine those sentences. The most basic way to accomplish this would be to use a simple conjunction, a short connecting word such as:
and, but, yet, for, or, so
Each conjunction has a purpose and expresses a different thought.
Therefore, you really need to ask yourself Why do I want to combine these two sentences? After all, they are perfectly fine as two distinct sentences. Is it enough to simply combine the two sentences?
“I am wearing black shoes and I am wearing brown socks.”
If, on the other hand, you wish to say that there is something distinctive about the two separate clauses, you should at the very least insert a comma before the and, indicating that these are two independent thoughts.
“I am wearing black shoes, and I am wearing brown socks.”
Maybe you want to keep it a single, simple sentence. Why repeat the words I am wearing? That would be redundant, or unnecessary.
“I am wearing black shoes and brown socks.”
What if you realize that you put the wrong color socks on today? A different conjunction would easily express that.
“I am wearing black shoes, but brown socks.”
Maybe you are a rebel, someone who likes to stand out in a crowd and get noticed.
“I am wearing black shoes, so I am wearing brown socks.”
Are you confused?
“I am wearing black shoes, yet I am wearing brown socks.”
Perhaps it’s early and you haven’t finished getting dressed.
“I am wearing black shoes, or I am wearing brown socks.”
Your only clean socks are brown, and you must choose between black shoes or sneakers.
“I am wearing black shoes, for I am wearing brown socks.”
Okay, that last example was a bit of a stretch, but you probably get the idea. It is not enough to use a conjunction to link two sentences together. You must have a reason for combining them.
Another way to combine independent clauses is with the much-maligned semicolon, a punctuation mark which is used when you want to replace a period and a comma would be out of place.
Using a semicolon, the combined sentences become, “I can’t wear sneakers today; my only clean socks are brown.”
The semicolon replaces the combination of a comma and a conjunction, but still serves to stress the relationship between the two clauses. In this case, it was also a much cleaner and precise sentence than when we used the conjunction for.
You would also use a semicolon to unite sentences when using transitional phrases or conjunctive adverbs.
Transitional phrases are used to unite separate thoughts. In the next example, for one thing is the transitional phrase.
“I can’t wear sneakers today; for one thing my only clean socks are brown.”
Other common transitional phrases include for example and in other words.
Conjunctive adverbs are words like however, indeed, naturally, and therefore.
“I’d like to wear sneakers today; however my only clean socks are brown.”
When used after a semicolon to link sentences, they may be followed by an optional comma.
“My only clean socks are brown; therefore, I won’t wear sneakers today.”
Conjunctive adverbs also commonly link paragraphs, and are always followed by a comma.
However, there are many times when the comma and conjunction will look and sound more natural.
“I’d wear sneakers today, but my only clean socks are brown.”
That’s all for this week! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must put some shoes and socks on.