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Compound Sentence: Definition, Coordinating Conjunctions and Semicolon

Learn compound sentences with the English language conjunctions

Compound sentences combine two or more independent clauses. The key here is independent clauses, which are clauses that can stand alone as separate sentences. Essentially, a compound sentence brings together individual, related sentences as one.

Compound sentences are easy to identify because they usually use a coordinating conjunction, which you may remember as:

  • FANBOYS: For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, and So.

However, compound sentences can also use a semicolon to connect two clauses, in which case no conjunction is necessary.

Let's look at some compound sentence examples to see how they work.

 

Compound sentence examples

 

Here's an example of how coordinating conjunctions add meaning:

  • I think you'd enjoy the party, but I don't mind if you stay home.


In this sentence, the coordinator "but" shows a clear relationship between the two independent clauses, in this case, that the speaker is making a suggestion that the person being addressed isn't expected to follow it. 

Without the coordinator "but," the relationship isn't apparent, making the writing choppy and the meaning less clear:

  • I think you'd enjoy the party. I don't mind if you stay home.


You can also join independent clauses with a semicolon (;), which looks something like a cross between a colon and a comma. If you join clauses with a semicolon, you add an abrupt pause, creating a different kind of effect, as shown in the sentence below:

  • He said he didn't mind if I stayed home; it soon became clear he wasn't being honest.
 

You should use a semicolon when the independent clauses are related, but contrast in a way that you want to stand out. 

In the sentence above, the contrast is that the person being talked about in the first clause sounded honest when he said he didn't mind if the speaker stayed home, but in the second clause, the speaker is telling you that the person being talked about was not honest. 

You could just as easily have written the sentence using a coordinating conjunction:

  • He said he didn't mind if I stayed home, but it soon became clear he wasn't being honest.


The sentence still means the same as before, but using the coordinator "but" softens the impact of the second clause.  



Compound sentences with coordinating conjunctions

 

Coordinating conjunctions are sometimes referred to as FANBOYS. Notice how a comma is used with a coordinating conjunction.

For example:
  • He couldn't go home, for he had no place to go.
  • I took a taxi, and she drove home.
  • He didn't want help, nor did she offer it.
  • I wanted to go late, but she wanted to go on time.
  • She cooked dinner, or she went out to a restaurant.
  • She owned a car, yet she didn't know how to drive it.
  • She had to go, so she called a friend to drive her.
 

Dual construction vs. the coordinating conjunction - or when to use the comma!


When combining sentences into a compound sentence, you need a comma before the coordinating conjunction.

For example:

  • I like peanut butter, and I like jelly.
  • He eats macaroni, but he won't eat cheese.
 
But when combining two nouns or verbs, you don't need a comma.
  • I like peanut butter and jelly.
  • He eats macaroni or cheese but not both.
 

Compound sentences with a semicolon

 

Not a common practice, a semi-colon is used only where ideas are very closely related.

For example:

  • She loves me; she loves me not.
  • They say it's your birthday; it's my birthday too! - Paul McCartney
  • Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things. - Peter Drucker
 

A special use of semi-colons - the conjunctive adverb


Sometimes mistaken for a FANBOY, a conjunctive adverb actually joins two sentences with a semi-colon AND has additional punctuation inside the second sentence.

For example:

  • I hate spinach; however, I love broccoli.
  • I want to graduate with honors; furthermore, I want to go to law school.
  • I don't want to go out tonight; besides, I have homework to do.
 

Some common conjunctive adverbs include "accordingly, also, however, furthermore, nevertheless, consequently, finally, likewise, and meanwhile."

 
 

Common problems with compound sentences 

 

Common problems with compound sentences include commas splices.

A comma alone is not enough to connect two sentences.

For example:

  • I was tired from working late, I had to go to class anyway. X
  • I was tired from working late; I had to go to class anyway. 
  • I was tired from working late, but I had to go to class anyway.

Common problems with compound sentences include fused sentences.

Sentences cannot just run together. They must be joined with a semi-colon or a coordinating conjunction.

For example:

  • My brother just graduated from high school he will attend St. Petersburg College.
  • My brother just graduated from high school; he will attend St. Petersburg College.
  • My brother just graduated from high school, so he will attend St. Petersburg College.
 
__________

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