I've been reading Strunk and White's The Elements of Style, in which this rule is outlined:

Place a comma before and or but introducing an independent clause. Examples: The early records of the city have disappeared, and the story of its first years can no longer be reconstructed. The situation is perilous, but there is still one chance of escape.

Furthermore, on Wikipedia's page on the independent clause's subject (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subject_(grammar)), this example is given:

Zero (but implied) subject. 'Take out the trash!'

Thus, if 'Take out the trash' is an independent clause (with the implied subject being the person who the order is being directed to), would it be correct to write sentences like:

'Take out the trash, and move the bike!' 'Stop complaining, and do your homework.' 'Get off your horse, and drink your milk.'

I feel like the answer should be 'No' and that the correct way to write it is 'Take out the trash and move your bike!', however, I don't know why.


4 Answers 4


Punctuation is a matter of typographic and orthographic convention, not of grammar.

To apply the convention described in S&W to your sentence, you would indeed place a comma before and.

Take out the trash, and stop complaining.

stop complaining is a fully formed imperative sentence, just like take out the trash.

A more nuanced rule in the case of imperatives would be, if the second independent clause is part of a list of things to be done, then you can forego the comma:

Milk the cows and slop the hogs.

Do your homework and clean your room.

But if the second clause is a separate command, not really of a kind with the first, then use the comma:

You two pipe down, and go clean your room.

  • Why are we talking about independent clauses?? Usually, one talks about an independent clause when there is a dependent one: The boy I saw was Mark. There are two fully formed sentences.
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 9, 2016 at 1:19
  • 1
    First, because that is how S&W have stated the "rule" in question. Second, we can speak of independent clauses independently of dependent clauses. To call a clause "independent" is to characterize it as one that could stand alone as a well-formed "sentence"; there's no requirement that there be a dependent clause nearby when we employ the term "independent clause".
    – TimR
    Commented Feb 9, 2016 at 10:22

/Take out the trash and move your bike/ is an imperative and a compound sentence. The implied subject is you. There are no dependent clauses in it. The two sentences have a parallel structure and the /and/ is the linking word. Ergo, the comma rule to be placed before indepedent clauses does not apply here. However, one could - if one wanted to - put in a comma to signal emphasis or a slight pause. If that comma were in a script, the actor would read it differently than if it were not there. One has to say these things aloud to see how there might be a difference. But for me, this is not a grammatical difference.

  • Yes, except it's a compound verb phrase, not a compound sentence.
    – Greg Lee
    Commented Feb 8, 2016 at 15:49
  • 1
    No, it is a compound sentence made up of two separate sentences with two separate SVPs linked by an and. The fact take out is a two-word verb changes naught.
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 8, 2016 at 15:55
  • 1
    Compare that sentence to: "Take out the trash, and stop complaining." It's subtle, but I believe the comma is justified here because the two commands are not related in the same way as the two in the original example. Commented Feb 8, 2016 at 15:57
  • If it is a compound sentence (which is possible), then the second conjunct is a sentence, and there should be a comma. But it can also be a single sentence with a compound verb phrase, and then there is no comma. The fact that you can add "both" at the beginning suggests to me that the second interpretation is at least possible, since "both" can't come before a compound sentence.
    – Greg Lee
    Commented Feb 8, 2016 at 18:32
  • I'm sorry but I am not seeing that at all. There are clearly two full simple sentences here. I don't know what you mean by a second conjunct. And I don't see any compound verb "phrase". It is just a compound verb: take out
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 9, 2016 at 1:18

I am not good with "rule" language, and I've been having problems with "to include a comma or not to include a comma" as well.

  • You take out the trash. You wash the car. (Could be talking to two different people, or one person if your speech is really stunted)
  • Take out the trash, and wash the car. (Talking to one person and the "you" is assumed in the second clause? Or can a subject never be assumed unless it's a direct imperative?) "How about you take out the trash and wash the car?" (Is the subject implied in the second clause so I should add a comma or should it be left as is?)
  • Take out the trash and wash the car. (A list of two actions not in need of a serial comma unless a third action is added) Take out the trash, wash the car, and feed the lizard.
  • 1
    Yes; the whole schemozzle about identifying virtual independent clauses smacks of a still inadequate attempt to shore up an obviously inadequate 'rule'. Commented Apr 29, 2020 at 15:49

It all depends on whether it's intended as two independent clauses or a single sentence with a compound predicate. In the case of the former, use a comma. Otherwise it isn't necessary. A little Reed-Kellogg picture illustrates the difference: enter image description here

  • SVP does not contain clauses. They contain a subject verb and predicate.
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 8, 2016 at 17:55
  • I think we may be looking at the same thing in different "languages." Warriner calls this a compound sentence, consisting of two independent clauses joined by a comma and conjunction. (W's prescription...)
    – Rob_Ster
    Commented Feb 8, 2016 at 18:00
  • It is not an independent clause. You can only have an independent clause if you have a dependent one. For example: The mark on her forehead that we saw was not red. Neither of these fully formed SVP sentences has anything other than Subject Verb Predicate. That we saw would be the dependant clause. They are structurally parallel or co-valant.
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 9, 2016 at 1:22
  • No; the punctuation deemed necessary depends in the first place on which 'rule' you decide to follow. Commented Apr 29, 2020 at 15:45

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.