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A colleague in our department has written a comma assessment for our students. One of the sentences in the assessment is

Instead the topic became one of contention and before dinner was over she had left the restaurant and hailed a cab.

I'm assuming that the correct punctuation would be:

Instead, the topic became one of contention, and before dinner was over, she had left the restaurant and hailed a cab.

My colleague insists that there shouldn't be a comma after the word contention, even though it appears we have two dependent clauses. Who is in the right?

2 Answers 2

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There is no question that there should be a comma after "contention." A comma must be used between two independent clauses joined by a conjunction, except when those independent clauses are very short.

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  • Some reading material on brianpck's answer: grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/conjunctions.htm Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 18:10
  • The argument from my colleague is that you're not technically joining two independent clauses as the words "before dinner was over" is actually a dependent clause.
    – RPTC
    Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 19:04
  • There are two independent clauses: "Instead the topic became one of contention" and "Before dinner was over she had left the restaurant and hailed a cab." You are right that "before dinner was over" is dependent: but it is "dependent" on the second complex sentence. The combined sentence is compound-complex, and both independent sentences that make it up must be separated by a comma if they are joined by a conjunction.
    – brianpck
    Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 20:47
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Using only commas, this is a run-on sentence. It needs a semi-colon after contention, not a comma.

Instead, the topic became one of contention; and before dinner was over, she had left the restaurant and hailed a cab.

Ideally, this would be two separate sentences, omitting the word and:

Instead, the topic became one of contention. Before dinner was over, she had left the restaurant and hailed a cab.

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