In the sentence

There he remained for six years, but he still dreamt of a television career.

I have a comma before the but, which I believe follows the FANBOYS rule.

If I omit the second he, will the rule still apply? Example:

There he remained for six years , but still dreamt of a television career.

  • 1
    Yes, you still want the comma even if you "delete" the second "he". But note that the standard preposition is "...he still dreamed of a television career" (and less and less people use the dreamt spelling, even though in practice that often/usually reflects the sound best). – FumbleFingers Jan 5 '15 at 19:54
  • Thank you for the advice on the preposition. Would you recommend any grammar book that explains in very extensive detail -- perhaps with dozens of examples -- all the comma rules? – Gabriel C Jan 5 '15 at 20:15
  • Oh, and if you could post your previous reply as an answer instead of a comment, I could give you a +1. – Gabriel C Jan 5 '15 at 20:33
  • As @Fumble says, in English you can dream of something or about something; dreaming with something is a direct translation from the Iberian languages (Spanish soñar con, Portuguese sonhar com, etc.) that doesn’t work in English at all, any more than you would say soñar/sonhar sobre. (Also, I’m one of those people who quite consistently uses dreamt rather than dreamed … though I would have to also be a bit prescriptivist and opt for fewer and fewer people in this case. Less and less people rubs something in my ears the wrong way.) – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 5 '15 at 20:41
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    Fronting with the locative makes subject deletion sound wrong. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 5 '15 at 23:49

A rather truer explanation of the limitations of the 'rule' is to be found at Textbroker:

Commas and Coordinating Conjunctions (FANBOYS)

You've seen the commentary, but what does that mean? Coordinating conjunctions are all of the following:

For .... And .... Nor .... But .... Or .... Yet .... So

You can remember them by being FANBOYS of good grammar. If you're having trouble with comma usage each time one of these pops up, here's a trick that can make it easier. You only need a comma when each part can stand on its own. So whenever you see one of the FANBOYS, split the sentence around it.

I went to the store |and| bought eggs.

"I went to the store" is a complete sentence, but "bought eggs" is not. This sentence is fine the way it is.

I went to the store |and| I bought eggs.

"I went to the store" is a complete sentence. "I bought eggs" is also a complete sentence. The sentence should read: I went to the store, and I bought eggs.

You can do this with any of the FANBOYS.

I went to the store, |but| the chickens were on strike, |so| there were no eggs.

I went to the store |but| found no eggs.

They say women are from Venus, |yet| Mars already has Martians, |so| why do they need men too?

If you can split a sentence, you can join the full-fledged FANBOYS.

With the trend towards light punctuation nowadays, I'm sure even this attenuated 'rule' is over-prescriptive. I'd be perfectly happy with

I went to the store and I bought some eggs.

I'd insert the comma where it would sound decidedly off not to insert a pause when reading aloud.

Oh, and the FANBOYS analysis has come under heavy criticism, as this article by Jack English (?)describes.

  • I can't quote any support from grammar guides, but I don't find the point made by Textbroker at all convincing. I can't really see it makes any difference at all whether the second instance of the subject pronoun is repeated or deleted in OP's example. But the implication from Textbroker is the comma should not be used in OP's second version, since still dreamt of a television career isn't a valid "standalone" sentence. – FumbleFingers Jan 5 '15 at 23:56
  • It's a poor example, with coordinated sentences of different structure (one fronted by a locative): subject deletion doesn't work. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 5 '15 at 23:58
  • ...the comma is usually included in for three years, but never, which so far as I'm concerned is essentially the same construction (second instance of subject is "deleted"). – FumbleFingers Jan 6 '15 at 0:00
  • I can't decide which example you're pointing to. I'm happy with these three: 'He remained there for three years, but he still dreamt of a television career.' ==> 'He remained there for three years[,] but still dreamt of a television career.' // The article pointing out some problems with the FANBOYS analysis says that only some 'authorities' prescribe the comma when two complete sentences are present (either side of the coordinator). – Edwin Ashworth Jan 6 '15 at 0:05
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    This is the first I'd ever heard of this "FANBOYS" thing, and while it coincides with my own comma/pause preferences pretty closely, I still think it's rather horrible. It's a reasonable enough preference when not carried to extremes (such as a comma between very short independent clauses) but the cutesy acronym overly reinforces the idea that it's some sort of absolute rule, rather than a style choice that tends to help one sound natural much of the time, in the moments when the words begin to swim before your proofreading eyes and "what sounds better" no longer means anything. – Jon Hanna Jan 6 '15 at 2:36

Here is something that I found in the book The Elements of Style, by William Strunk Jr., fourth edition.

It's in Chapter I, Elementary Rules Of Usage, page 5:

4 - Place a comma before a conjunction introducing an independent clause.


When the subject is the same for both clauses and is expressed only once, a comma is useful if the connective is but. When the connective is and, the comma should be omitted if the relation between the two statements is close or immediate.

I have heard the arguments, but am still unconvinced.

Apparently, the but makes an important difference in my original example:

There he remained for six years, but still dreamt of a television career.

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