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Punctuation and Sentence Building Help (page 2)

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By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Sep 14, 2011

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With the use of a comma, coordinating conjunctions join independent clauses to one another, and they add meaning:

Using Conjunctive Adverbs

Other conjunctions such as however, therefore, furthermore, and nevertheless also join independent clauses to one another and express relationships between them. Notice that these longer conjunctions, also called transitional words or conjunctive adverbs, are preceded by a semicolon and followed by a comma:

    Sunday was the hottest day of the summer; consequently, we decided to go to the beach.

What relationship does consequently express in this sentence? Clearly, the second clause is a result of the first clause.

Here is a more complete list of transitional words:

  • after all
  • also
  • as a result
  • besides
  • consequently
  • finally
  • for example
  • furthermore
  • hence
  • however
  • in addition
  • incidentally
  • indeed
  • in fact
  • in other words
  • instead
  • likewise
  • meanwhile
  • moreover
  • nevertheless
  • next
  • nonetheless
  • on the contrary
  • on the other hand
  • otherwise
  • still
  • then
  • therefore
  • thus

To summarize, you've learned three different ways to join independent clauses:

    I like Cape Cod, but Marcel likes Nantucket.

    (independent clause, comma, coordinating conjunction, independent clause)

    I like Cape Cod; Marcel likes Nantucket.

    (independent clause, semicolon, independent clause)

    I like Cape Cod; however, Marcel likes Nantucket.

    (independent clause, semicolon, transition word, comma, independent clause)

Using Conjunctions to Add Meaning to Sentences

Coordinating conjunctions are commonly used to connect sentences, and that's fine. However, they can be overused. The word and, for example, is one such conjunction since it simply adds one sentence to another and doesn't really indicate what kind of relationship you wish to establish. On the other hand, the word although conveys a much more specific relationship than and does. For example:

  1. We have done little to effect change, and greenhouse gases continue to soar.
  2. We have done little to effect change; consequently, greenhouse gases continue to soar.

The first sentence simply adds one sentence to another. With the addition of consequently, the second sentence indicates an opinion or indictment on the part of the writer. It says that despite or notwithstanding what's happening regarding greenhouse gases, we have done little, and there is a consequence.

Here's an opportunity for you to use transitional words to add meaning to sentences. In each of the following sentences, how would you add meaning by replacing and with a more meaning-filled transitional word? Look back to the list of transitional words for ideas.

  1. I will make dinner, and you need to pick up Amelia after school.
  2. Tillie was always late for work, and she received a cut in pay.
  3. We started by clearing the attic, and we emptied the garage.

When you looked at the list of transitional words, you probably found several possibilities for each sentence. Here are some:

    Sentence 1
    I will make dinner; meanwhile, you need to pick up Amelia after school.
    I will make dinner; on the other hand, you need to pick up Amelia after school.
    I will make dinner; consequently, you need to pick up Amelia after school.
    Sentence 2
    Tillie was always late for work; consequently, she received a cut in pay.
    Tillie was always late for work; finally, she received a cut in pay.
    Tillie was always late for work; as a result, she received a cut in pay.
    Sentence 3
    We started by clearing the attic; next, we emptied the garage.
    We started by clearing the attic; finally, we emptied the garage.
    We started by clearing the attic; in addition, we emptied the garage.

You probably noticed that the revised sentences convey so much more of the writer's meaning and attitude.

This brings us to the more specific relationships established through the use of complex sentences.

Complex Sentences

As you learned earlier, a comma plus a coordinating conjunction, or a semicolon alone, join compound sentences and equalize the two thoughts. What if you want to make one idea less important than the other—not equal? In that case, you need to construct a complex sentence.

A complex sentence joins an independent clause (a complete thought) and a dependent clause (an incomplete thought). It uses a subordinating conjunction to join a dependent (subordinate) clause to an independent or main clause and express the relationship between the dependent and independent clauses. Common subordinating conjunctions are:

For example:

    When we have time, we read and enjoy fiction.

Which part of the sentence can stand on its own? The answer, of course, is the part that follows the comma:

    We read and enjoy fiction.

The first part of the sentence is a fragment. When we have time leaves you with the question, "Then what?"

The complex sentence gives you a powerful tool, that is, the ability to subordinate a less important idea to the more important one, the dependent clause to the independent clause. Another power it gives is variety in the length of your sentences.

    How can you subordinate one idea to another with the following sentences?
    Tom works in Phoenix. Elliot still works in Los Angeles.

Examples:

    Elliot still works in Los Angeles although Tom works in Phoenix.

NOTE: Notice that when the dependent clause follows the independent clause, no comma is needed.

In addition, if you find that you frequently start sentences with the word it, you can overcome that poor word choice by combining two short independent clauses into a complex sentence. For example:

    It is sunny today.
    We don't have raincoats in the car.

An obvious causal relationship exists between these two statements. Why not express it? Of course, you will have to decide which idea is the more important one for your purposes. The following may be your choice:

In this case, the first clause is dependent, emphasizing the second clause.

    Writing strong sentences requires placing emphasis on the most important idea.

You can usually achieve that emphasis by placing the key idea at the end of the sentence.

    Losing weight and building strength are the clear goals of our new health and fitness program, although other activities will be included.

Which clause holds the more important idea?

    Independent: Losing weight and building strength are the clear goals of our new health and fitness program
    Dependent: although other activities will be included

We can assume that the independent clause holds the more important idea. If that is the case and considering the earlier note regarding emphasis on the key idea, how should we put this sentence together? Look at the following examples:

The end of the sentence now contains and emphasizes the important idea.

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