Punctuation Quiz #19: Punctuating Sentences

By Mark Nichol

From each of the following pairs of sentences, select the correctly punctuated version.

1.
a) I went to the meeting, however John was not there.
b) I went to the meeting; however, John was not there.

2.
a) If you are ready to go, then meet me at the corner in five minutes.
b) If you are ready to go then meet me at the corner in five minutes.

3.
a) They will submit a report, and if it is approved, they will begin to implement its recommendations.
b) They will submit a report and, if it is approved, they will begin to implement its recommendations.

4.
a) They spoke to department chair, Mary Jones, about the issue.
b) They spoke to department chair Mary Jones about the issue.

5.
a) We saw the sign, and continuing along the trail, found our way to the cabin.
b) We saw the sign and, continuing along the trail, found our way to the cabin.

Answers and Explanations

1.
b) I went to the meeting; however, John was not there.
A clause beginning with however is an independent clause and requires a semicolon before however and a comma after it, or however must begin a new sentence. (Alternatively, the sentence may be simplified to “I went to the meeting, but John was not there.”)

2.
a) If you are ready to go, then meet me at the corner in five minutes.
“If . . . then” statements require a comma before then, because the element beginning with if is a dependent clause. (Also, despite the name of this type of sentence, then is usually optional; it is in this example.)

3.
a) They will submit a report, and if it is approved, they will begin to implement its recommendations.
In the sentence in which the comma follows and, the base sentence (“They will submit a report and they will begin to implement its recommendations”) is missing key information, so “if it is approved” is not an optional parenthetical. The correct version of this sentence consists of two independent clauses (“They will submit a report” and “they will begin to implement its recommendations”) — one of which is preceded by a dependent clause (“if it is approved”).

4.
b) They spoke to department chair Mary Jones about the issue.
Commas should not bracket a person’s name to set it off from a preceding description or job title unless that word or phrase is preceded by the or a — “They spoke to the department chair, Mary Jones, about the issue” — in which case the person’s name is a nonessential parenthetical. (The sentence “They spoke to department chair about the issue” with the name omitted is incorrect; “They spoke to the department chair about the issue” is correct.)

5.
b) We saw the sign and, continuing along the trail, found our way to the cabin.
This sentence differs from the correct form of the third sentence, above, in that the base sentence does not consist of two independent clauses, so a comma does not precede the conjunction. The comma should follow and because it is the first of two commas framing the nonessential parenthetical “continuing along the trail.”

Recommended for you: « »



2 Responses to “Punctuation Quiz #19: Punctuating Sentences”

  • Michael Tevlin

    I think it would be better to punctuate #3 as follows: They will submit a report, and, if it is approved, they will begin to implement its recommendations.

    My reasoning: If you remove the nonessential parenthetical in your corrected version, you are left with, “They will submit a report, they will begin to implement its recommendations.” Since the two independent clauses must be joined by the conjunction “and,” the better way to punctuate the complete sentence would place a comma before “and,” in order to indicate the beginning of a new independent clause, and after “and,” in order to indicate the non-essential parenthetical.

  • Tim Slager

    Do you have a source for the third one? I would have set off the if clause with commas. But of course I defer to CMOS.

Leave a comment: