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This sentence is bugging me:

I knew going in that the orange flavor component of the cake was going to be lacking, and I was right.

The comma doesn't seem to be enough, but the semicolon just looks wrong:

I knew going in that the orange flavor component of the cake was going to be lacking; and I was right.

Which of the above is correct and why?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 40 down vote accepted

The comma is enough as the second clause "I was right" is independent.

Commas are used before conjunctions (but, and, yet, or, so, etc.) when the two clauses they are coordinating can stand as independent sentences.

The semi colon is used when the first clause contains commas.

I knew going in that the orange, marzipan and chilli flavor component of the cake was going to be lacking; and I was right!

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+1 for the very nice example. –  Jolenealaska Jan 12 '14 at 23:09
Agreed: I would say that in OPs example using both a semicolon and 'and' is actually misuse, but it's a very minor point. (Either would be better than both). –  TimLymington Jan 12 '14 at 23:40
The semicolon is used a comma would be confusing. My siblings were born in Atlanta, Georgia; Oak Ridge, Tennessee and Los Angeles, California. It serves as a kind of super-comma. More importantly, it is used to joint two independent clauses where there is no conjunction. You could say, "I knew going in that the orange flavor component of the cake was going to be lacking; I was right." I'd agree that this particular use of the semicolon is "pretentious." The semicolon is a wonderful punctuation mark; however, it is a mark that ought to be used judiciously. –  Michael Owen Sartin Jan 13 '14 at 0:38
I will always remember: so, and, but, or, yet, for, nor –  Johnston Jan 13 '14 at 2:15
Interestingly, in Italian you are usually taught not to use the comma at all in a case like this, precisely because you are using a conjunction that coordinates two independent sentences. The rationale is that you are just trying to reproduce the pause you make when you speak the sentence, so in other words it would be appropriate when writing direct speech, but not in a more formal setting. –  UncleZeiv Jan 13 '14 at 10:22

A comma seems fine. A quick look at google books shows that commas are common here, though sometimes there’s no punctuation at all.

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I found one case of parentheses, but not a single semicolon.

The Economist’s advice on semicolons is to use them:

to mark a pause longer than a comma and shorter than a full stop. Don't overdo them.

So, it’s seems that a comma is fine in your example.

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I particularly like the "don't overdo them". There is something oddly pretentious about the semicolon. –  Jolenealaska Jan 12 '14 at 23:08
I think your first example has a syntax error rather than a stylistic preference. –  JFA Jan 13 '14 at 17:43
@JFA: Do you want to add some more detail: what's the nature of the syntactic error? –  Daniel Harbour Jan 14 '14 at 2:33
@DanielHarbour Independent clauses need to be separated by commas. "I just knew it." and "I was right." can stand independently. –  Jeremy Jan 14 '14 at 3:11
@Jeremy. That's a convention you can choose to follow if you like. I note that several writers who I regard as great stylists (e.g., Atwood) do so only sometimes. But I would certainly regard this comma rule as a matter of style, not one of syntax. As a jobbing linguist, I regard syntax as being about why you have to say John often eats fish rather that John eats often fish. Maybe you place the division between grammar and style elsewhere. –  Daniel Harbour Jan 14 '14 at 3:29

They are both right. As is

I knew going in that the orange flavor component of the cake was going to be lacking. And I was right.

Your examples are both compound sentences. There are two independent clauses, joined by a conjunction (and) and separated by punctuation (either the comma or the semicolon). The comma is a softer break, the semicolon, a more significant one.

My example uses two separate sentences. This is an even more significant break and is somewhat more dramatic. A few purist would argue that sentences should not begin with a conjunction, but that viewpoint is probably not very ascendant today. Or do you disagree?

[Perhaps I should have begun this entire discussion with They are both right, as is ...? Or maybe They are both right; as is ...?]

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Ha! You bring up a good point regarding starting a sentence with a conjunction, it's kind of like ending a sentence with a preposition. "This is the sort of English up with which I will not put." –  Jolenealaska Jan 12 '14 at 23:25
This usage of 'And' isn't a conjunction. A conjunction is something that joins two clauses, while this is an 'And' at the beginning of the sentence. Now let the purists rave. –  Evgeni Sergeev Jan 13 '14 at 11:50

Yes it is correct, and here is why.

You have two independent clauses in that sentence, and that means they must be: A) separated with a period. This is because they can stand alone as two separate sentences, 2) joined with a semicolon; do not use a conjunction, 3) joined with a comma and a conjunction, and they can be written as one sentence.

Which of these you choose depends on the style of your writing.

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