One of the easiest ways to combine clauses is to link them with a conjunction. The easiest conjunctions to work with are the coordinating conjunctions. Traditionally, seven words are listed in this category:

and

or

but

so

for

yet

nor


Here are some examples of compound sentences:

1. Ernest Lawrence Thayer wrote “Casey at the Bat,” and the San Francisco Examiner first published it on June 3, 1888.

2. Toni Morrison is probably America’s finest working novelist, but she is also a first-rate essayist and editor.

3. According to M. Scott Peck, M.D., in People of the Lie, evil people attack others, yet they rarely face their own failures as human beings.

Label the subjects, verbs, complements, and objects in the preceding sentences so that you see clearly how each sentence is made up of two clauses. The clauses are independent, which means that they can stand on their own. Each one could be written as a simple sentence, which is one independent clause. In a compound sentence, two independent clauses are joined with one of the coordinating conjunctions.

Notice also that a comma is used in a compound sentence. It is placed after the first clause, just before the conjunction.

This does not mean that a comma is always used before and, but, for, nor, or, so, and yet. For example, look at these sentences:

(a) Orange and green are two of the secondary colors.

(b) New college graduates are often excited but apprehensive about the next phase of their lives.

No comma is used in either sentence because in these cases and and but are not used to connect clauses.

Exercise 2.1

All of the sentences below are compound sentences. Label both clauses of each sentence, using s, v, do, io, sub com, and ob com. Circle the conjunction that connects the clauses; then insert a comma before the conjunction.

1. On the average, Mexican-Americans have larger families than any other ethnic group in the United States and they can also claim the lowest divorce rate of all.

2. In the fifteenth century, French gardeners wanted the sweetest possible melons so they watered them with sugar water and honey.

3. Facial tissues are great for cold sufferers but those thin little sheets were actually invented for the removal of cold cream.

4. Both Bill Wilson, a New York stockbroker, and Robert H. Smith, an Ohio surgeon, had a drinking problem so they joined forces and started Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935.

5. Most people keep their New Year’s resolutions for no more than a few weeks or they don’t make them in the first place.

Important Note: As you’ve learned, the coordinating conjunctions are usually used to connect two independent clauses, but they can also be used to connect more than two clauses within one sentence. Analyze and punctuate the following example. Circle the conjunctions that connect the clauses and insert a comma before each:

At the age of 23, Frank Church of Idaho learned of his incurable cancer but he lived another 36 years and in that time he became one of the century’s most powerful and effective U.S. senators

You can see that three independent clauses have been connected by coordinating conjunctions in the sentence about Senator Frank Church. This is a useful option for combining clauses, but, of course, you should not overuse it because you know that variety in sentence structure is a mark of good, lively writing. Three or four clauses combined with coordinating conjunctions would probably be the limit within one sentence. Keep in mind that the standard and most common use of the coordinating conjunction is simply to bring together two clauses.