Commas and coordinating conjunctions: Too many rules or no rules at all?

Tatjana Marjanović


Although it is unclear why punctuation should be pushed to the sidelines, it generally continues to be a neglected research area in mainstream contemporary linguistics. Common sense and empirical evidence both suggest that punctuation is so much more than a stylistic device, its presence or absence creating new strata and shades of meaning. Punctuation is also a matter of some controversy, all too often employed as a symbol of confrontation between linguistic conservatives and their more permissive colleagues. An already difficult situation is made even more difficult with different sources (e.g. course and reference books, online blogs and articles, etc.) supplying contradictory information with a rigor that does not tolerate disagreement, obsessing over rules for the sake of rules themselves and disregarding the real stories behind them. Shifting focus from a rule-governed behavior and identifying a relatively limited context of punctuation, the small-scale research addresses the issue of comma usage before the coordinating conjunctions and, but, or, nor, so, yet and for. In addition to a sketchy overview of this complex relationship illustrative of significant differences of opinion, the paper touches upon regional and generic factors influencing comma usage before coordinating conjunctions, utilizing the massive database of the Contemporary Corpus of American English (COCA). The main idea behind the paper is to observe and account for tendencies and discrepancies by providing critical commentary on authentic examples taken from the corpora rather than seek confirmation for rules and take the prescriptive norm for granted.


commas; coordinating conjunctions; rules; tendencies; discrepancies

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