ENGLISH 101. ACADEMIC WRITING
We defined "phrases" as the basic moves that can be made in a language. We looked at eight types--the basic phrase types in English--and we saw a glimpse of how phrases can be added on to provide better detail and to create texture in our writing.
Beyond phrases, the next more powerful word clusters are called the "clauses." A clause is defined as any word group that contains a subject and a verb. ''The frubbs frunked'' is a legitimate clause because, whatever ''frubbs'' are, the grammar tells us that they ''frunked.'' A clause simply needs to have a subject and a verb.
Clauses are important from a technical perspective. If you have ever seen a student flogged for "sentence fragments" (Hacker section 14), "run-on sentences" (Hacker section 15), or "comma splices" (dianahacker.com/pocket/language debates), you know that it's not a pretty sight. These are generally regarded as serious infractions. They can be avoided only by learning to recognize and to classify clauses.
Fortunately, there are only two types. Some clauses can stand alone as sentences ("independent" clauses) and some can't stand alone as sentences ("dependent" clauses). Dependent clauses are fragments that must be completed by joining up with independent clauses.
If in doubt whether a clause is independent or dependent, try adding a tag question like "doesn't it?" or "isn't it?" If the resulting question makes sense to you, the clause is independent. If the question is nonsense, the clause is dependent.
Example #6 above gives some students trouble, since they've heard American movie dialogue or read American novel dialogue in which "although" is used as a substitute for "but." This is a new slang usage of "although," and it is not yet accepted in academic English. In standard usage "although" signals the introduction of a dependent clause whereas "but" signals an independent clause.
Sentences that consist only of one clause (that is, one independent clause) are called simple sentences. Sentences that consist of multiple independent clauses are called compound sentences. Sentences that mix independent and dependent clauses are called complex sentences.
Compound sentences can be combined in any one of three ways.
OPTION 1: separate the independent clauses using a comma with a conjunction from the list of "fanboys"
In the examples below, notice the subject-verb combination on each side of the conjunction; (it is this subject-verb combination that makes the word group a clause instead of a phrase). Also notice the placement of a comma before each fanboy conjunction.
Jo drove, for Al was sleepy........Jo drove. For Al was sleepy.
The night was dark, and the road was slick...The night was dark. And the road was slick.
Neither knew the way, nor did they have a map...Neither knew the way. Nor did they have a map.
They kept going, but they were tired.....They kept going. But they were tired.
They had to drive, or they had to stop...They had to drive. Or they had to stop.
They wanted to go on, yet it was too late...They wanted to go on. Yet it was too late.
They came to a shelter, so they stopped...They came to a shelter. So they stopped.
OPTION 2: separate the independent clauses by using a semi-colon with no conjunction
The semicolon ( ; ) can be used to join two clauses of the same kind. It can be used to punctuate compound sentences because there's an independent clause on each side, as in this example:
A compound sentence has at least two independent clauses; they may be joined by a semicolon.
OPTION 3: separate the independent clauses by using a semicolon with a non-fanboys conjunction and a comma.
The fanboys list is an exclusive one. Although you can use a comma with a fanboys conjunction, you must use a semi-colon in all other cases. You must use a semi-colon even if you use non-fanboys coordinating conjunctions like the following:
A complex sentence mixes independent and dependent clauses. The difference between them is simple:
In other words, dependent clauses are created simply by placing one of the so-called subordinating conjunctions in front of an independent clause. The subordinating conjunctions include the following words: although, after, as, as if, before, because, while, unless, until, and when.
There are two options for combining independent and dependent clauses into complex sentences.
OPTION 1: put the independent clause first, followed by the dependent clause:
OPTION 2: put the dependent clause first, add a comma, and follow with independent clause:
Notice that when the dependent clause comes first, it's followed by a comma.
NEVER AN OPTION:
A dependent clause can't stand by itself as a simple sentence. If it's punctuated as a sentence, it's a sentence fragment (Hacker section 14).
Fragments are common in popular writing, but they're rare as cuss words in academic writing. The best policy is to avoid them.
For further review of subjects and verbs, simple sentences, compound sentences and complex sentences, look at Dr. E's Grammar Sequence for College Writers. See also Hacker sections 14 and 15 on fragments and run ons.