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My friend and I had an argument about whether this sentence required a comma:

I understand where you're coming from but I disagree.


My friend insisted that there should be a comma before "but":

I understand where you're coming from, but I disagree.

From my point of view, while grammatically correct, the addition of a comma is not necessary.

When I looked online for sources to answer our disagreement, I found no authoritative sources and many sources were contradicting one another. Some argued, like I believe, that it's not necessary because the addition of comma is of no value in that context (i.e. the addition of comma doesn't make the sentence easier to read) but others said it was mandatory.

So, which is it? Is a comma necessary before a conjunction?

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What I was taught in school was that it's acceptable to omit the comma when joining very short independent clauses. What's "short enough" is a judgment call.

I will happily agree with anyone that (a) it doesn't hurt to put the comma in, and (b) whenever the comma definitely makes things clearer, by all means it should be used.

In your particular case, my judgment is that your second independent clause is short enough that you could get away with omitting the comma. (I would include it, though.)

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I agree but with reservations.

When it helps make the meaning clear, a comma can't hurt. But it isn't always necessary.

You'll agree with me or you won't.

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1  
+1 for the last sentence. :D – Jürgen A. Erhard Jan 19 '11 at 11:17
    
Of course, I should deduct 1 point for "con't". Hmm, what could that mean, if it were an actually word? ;-) – Jürgen A. Erhard Jan 19 '11 at 11:17
    
@jae: I plead the tiny type on my Droid. Thanks for the tip and the forbearance. – Robusto Jan 19 '11 at 11:22
    
Delightfully self-referential. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 11 '14 at 23:44
    
This reminds me of Hollander's book Rhyme's Reason, in which he describes poetic forms using the forms themselves. A nice heuristic! – Silenus Jan 21 at 17:18

It is not necessary to include a comma before a coordinating conjunction in a compound sentence when the second clause is short and the meaning clear. You are correct, but your friend is also. Grammatical experts say a comma is optional in this situation.

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