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William Strunk writes in the 1914 edition of his Elements of Style:

  1. Place a comma before and or but introducing an independent clause.

    ...

    Two-part sentences of which the second member is introduced by as (in the sense of because), for, or, nor, and while (in the sense of and at the same time) likewise require a comma before the conjunction.

    ...

  2. Do not join independent clauses by a comma.

    ...

    If a conjunction is inserted, the proper mark is a comma (Rule 4).

Now more than a hundred years later, a grammar stylistic rule commonly taught by today’s writing-style guides categorically states that whenever the word so connects two independent sentences, a comma should be placed before that so. But in this example, so apparently connects two independent clauses, but no comma is placed.

Fees for higher education are expensive and not affordable for everyone so according to some university should be free for all people, regardless of their background.

Why was that written without a comma before the so? Shouldn’t it have been written at least like this:

Fees for higher education are expensive and not affordable for everyone, so according to some university should be free for all people, regardless of their background.

Or like this:

Fees for higher education are expensive and not affordable for everyone, so according to some, university should be free for all people, regardless of their background.

Or even like this:

Fees for higher education are expensive and not affordable for everyone, so, according to some, university should be free for all people, regardless of their background.

Why did the original leave out that critical comma? Is this not required? Any explanation on this strange lapse compared with what I thought the proper rule always had to be would be very much appreciated.

  • The construction [Statement X] so [Statement Y] can mean either or both of 1) - Y is the intention of X and 2) - Y is the outcome of X. In a context such as I often work overtime so I earn more money, the intended meaning (without a comma before so) is the first (I work o/t specifically in order to earn more), but if we include a comma (a pause, in speech), that implication of purpose is weakened or removed entirely (earning more is just a consequence of doing the o/t; not necessarily the reason I do it). – FumbleFingers Jun 23 '18 at 10:49
  • thanks, and what you think about putting a comma after "according to some" ? I think a comma is necessary in this situation. – Mike Balian Jun 23 '18 at 11:16
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    There is no such "grammar rule". Please don't use "grammar" to mean "anything and everything related to language". It does not mean that. Punctuation is punctuation. Pronunciation is pronunciation. Morphology is morphology. Etymology is etymology. None of these things is grammar. Grammar is only grammar. For starters, there is no punctuation in speech, so if what you stated were a grammar rule, this sentence right here is grammatical as written but ungrammatical when read aloud. That makes no sense. – RegDwigнt Jun 23 '18 at 11:52
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    Why the writer left out the comma is not something we can hope to answer here—it may have been a typo, the sentence may have been recast, or it may just be that the writer isn’t very good at punctuation. A comma before so would definitely be expected, though. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 23 '18 at 13:44
  • Notice that Strunk & White purports to be a style guide; styles change over the years, and 104 years is a long time. Commas in say 'John went left and Jim went right' (simple and very balanced independent clauses joined by a coordinator) are almost always considered optional nowadays. In your example, I'd say the comma is preferable (if not actually mandatory), if only to prevent the reader-aloud fainting from lack of oxygen. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 23 '18 at 15:52

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