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I've been under the impression that conjunctive adverbs needn't be preceded by a full-ish stop (e.g., a period or semicolon). I don't know where I got that idea, and consequently, as a lover of grammar, I'm aggravated. That sentence I just wrote, for example, is what I'm talking about.

So, have I always been wrong to link two independent clauses—the latter of which begins with a conjunctive adverb—with a comma and a conjunction? I seem to recall having always written this way, yet as a graduate of the English department, I have not once been corrected.

If so, where does the comma go—before and after the adverb? only after? only before? With regard to the conjunction itself—before or not at all? And while we're at it, in the last sentence of that last paragraph, should there have been a comma after "yet"?

  • I'm a bit confused—are you asking whether conjunctive adverbs can be used without commas on one or both sides of them? Or (as the first line implies) whether you need something ‘stronger’ than a comma before them? Or both? – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 7 '15 at 23:18
  • I suppose both. Everything I've found says a conjunctive adverb must be preceded by a semicolon or period. However, I was under the impression that two independent clauses could be separated by a comma, as long as a splice didn't occur. For example, "David likes to run, and, consequently, he is in good shape." My question is, are those commas all necessary (to me, logically speaking, it seems they are justified), or is that sentence incorrect to begin with, since "consequently" should be prefaced with a semicolon or period? – Jake Regier Jun 7 '15 at 23:25
  • @JakeRegier Could you give us an example sentence (pair of sentences)? – Araucaria Jun 7 '15 at 23:49
  • Here are some, sans punctuation. I'm wondering how they should be punctuated. I understand they sound unnatural, but let's pretend that's beside the point for the sake of this question. "I am running late and therefore I will miss the first five minutes." "One of the students likes math and conversely another student hates it." "Ellen began celebrating before she crossed the finish line and subsequently she was overtaken by another runner." – Jake Regier Jun 8 '15 at 0:05
  • possible duplicate of Commas and Qualifying Phrases although that one was asked later, it was answered sooner! – Brian Hitchcock Jun 8 '15 at 7:53
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Start by abandoning the notion that these adverbs are in any sense "conjunctive". They define the semantic relationship between two clauses, but they do not conjoin them in the grammatical sense of fusing them into a single syntactic unit. (In all of the examples in your comments that is accomplished by an actual conjunction, and.)

That is why orthographic convention requires a period or semicolon when one of these adverbs opens a clause: to tell the hearer or reader that you are starting a new independent clause. But it is not the adverb which demands the pointing, it is the clause boundary; precisely the same treatment is required when the new unconjoined clause starts without such an adverb. And in both cases the pointing reflects speech: the new clause is signaled by a preceding vocal "full cadence".

As for the commas: it is entirely up to you whether you bracket subsequently or consequently or furthermore or whatever. It's a matter of how closely you want the adverb to be integrated into the prosody of the clause. I recommend that you listen to the sentence in your mind, or speak it out loud, and put commas where you hear characteristic comma cadences.

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