Punctuation Review #5: Punctuating Conjunctive Adverbs

By Maeve Maddox

Seven common conjunctive adverbs are however, moreover, therefore, thus, consequently, furthermore, and unfortunately. A common error is to use them in place of an ordinary coordinating conjunction like and, but, or, nor, so, for, or yet. This type of error creates punctuation problems that are easily corrected.

For example:

Giving children the opportunity to make decisions is necessary for independent development, however, without clear, consistent boundaries, their sense of comfort and security can be diminished.

James Rockford was an unusual private detective who didn’t like to carry a gun, moreover, he was frequently beaten up by the bad guys.

Jeanette was planning a trip to Greece, therefore, she decided to take a course in colloquial Greek.

These sentences may be corrected in one of three ways:

1. By replacing the conjunctive adverb with a coordinating conjunction:

Giving children the opportunity to make decisions is necessary for independent development, but without clear, consistent boundaries, their sense of comfort and security can be diminished.

James Rockford was an unusual private detective who didn’t like to carry a gun, and he was frequently beaten up by the bad guys.

Jeanette was planning a trip to Greece, so she decided to take a course in colloquial Greek.

2. By rewriting one sentence as two sentences:

Giving children the opportunity to make decisions is necessary for independent development. However, without clear, consistent boundaries, their sense of comfort and security can be diminished.

James Rockford was an unusual private detective who didn’t like to carry a gun. Moreover, he was frequently beaten up by the bad guys.

Jeanette was planning a trip to Greece. Therefore, she decided to take a course in colloquial Greek.

3. By using a semicolon:

Giving children the opportunity to make decisions is necessary for independent development; however, without clear, consistent boundaries, their sense of comfort and security can be diminished.

James Rockford was an unusual private detective who didn’t like to carry a gun; moreover, he was frequently beaten up by the bad guys.

Jeanette was planning a trip to Greece; therefore, she decided to take a course in colloquial Greek.

Click here to get access to 800+ interactive grammar exercises!


Share


9 Responses to “Punctuation Review #5: Punctuating Conjunctive Adverbs”

  • thebluebird11

    Maeve: I am glad to see this post and was just today thinking about this! This issue is a constant source of annoyance to me in my work editing others’ documents. I have quit trying to explain to people the why’s and how-to’s; i remove commas, put in semicolons or periods, whatever it takes to make the sentence(s) fly right, but I make the corrections and move on, no longer flagging them for review. However, I have a couple of questions.
    1. I think that not all of these words are always treated the same. Take your example, “…therefore, she decided to take a course in colloquial Greek.” If any of your revisions were to reverse the words to read “…she therefore decided to take a course…”, do you need commas to set off the word “therefore”? In my job, people do this all the time, as in “She, therefore, decided to take a course…” I am constantly removing what I believe are clutter commas. However, taking your list of words (however, moreover, therefore, thus, consequently, furthermore, unfortunately), some seem to require being set off by commas. For example, “John decided to take a course in Italian; she, however, decided to take a course in Greek.” I feel that “moreover” and “unfortunately” probably need to be set off by commas in cases like this, whereas “thus,” “consequently,” plus/minus “furthermore” do not.

    2. Maybe along the same lines, the word “otherwise”: Understanding (much less explaining) grammar is not my strong suit, so although I think I’m making proper corrections when I edit, I would like to be sure. I constantly see things like “The patient, otherwise, is doing well” or “He, otherwise, has no complaints.” Do we really need these commas to set off the word “otherwise”? I’m thinking we don’t, mainly a gut feeling, but also because if I speak the words out loud, I do not hear the need for a pause there. If I were speaking, I would just say, “He otherwise has no complaints.” Can you comment? Thanks!

  • Precise Edit

    Conjunctive adverbs are always set off from the rest of the sentence to indicate that they tie one independent clause to a prior independent clause and don’t refer to only the clause that follows. Yes, this can lead to “comma clutter.”

  • thebluebird11

    @Precise Edit: Yes, but is “He” an independent clause?! If not, then it doesn’t need to be set off with commas.

  • Benjamin Greene

    I agree with Precise Edit.

    I thought it was considered bad taste to start a sentence with a conjunctive adverb unless it was tied to the following sentence with a semicolon. In this regard, you’d have to bring the conjunctive adverb into your sentence and set it off with commas.

  • Maeve

    Bluebird,
    You’ve given me a lot to think about. I’ve put it all in a document labeled “Comma Clutter” for a future post. As for the comma after a transitional adverb, this is what Chicago says:
    “A comma usually follows the adverb but may be omitted if the sentence seems just as effective without it.”

  • Precise Edit

    @TBB

    The conjunctive adverb, like other types of adverbs, can be occur in multiple places within the independent clause. Even so, they perform the same function-connect the information in an independent clause to the information in a prior independent clause. When they used at the beginning of the clause, they are followed by a comma. When, however, they are embedded in the clause, they are both preceded and followed by commas. Regardless, they are set off from the independent clause in which they occur

  • Precise Edit

    (Continued)
    by commas to show that they don’t refer only to that clause.

  • Precise Edit

    Here’s some comma clutter for you.

    Bob was not afraid. However, he, too, ran away.

    The number of commas, and the subsequent choppiness, can be reduced by a little editing.

    Bob was not afraid but still ran away with the others.
    Although Bob was not afraid, he also ran away.

    This is, of course, a style issue, as the original sentence is correct.

  • thebluebird11

    @Precise Edit: I believe that your original sentence with the clutter commas is correct. However, I also believe that the only comma really necessary is the one after “however.” If I were to speak the words (even if I were reading to people from the actual book), I would not pause except after “however.” It would all be in one breath, “he too ran away.” If it said “He ran away, too,” I might have a fleeting pause before “too,” so I can justify a comma there, maybe. I think it is visually distracting with 3 commas in a 5-word sentence, and not conducive to smooth reading.

Leave a comment: