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Actually, my question is a perfect example -

"Is there a hard rule for where commas go when there SEEMS to be two independent clauses but there's only one subject?"

This one seems easy to me, in that, there would be no comma because "Is there a hard rule for where commas go when" is implied before "there's only one subject." However, I'm a transcriptionist and I come across a lot of sentences where I just can't tell if I need a comma or not (and the company I work for is quite picky in this area). Of course I can't think of a good example right now, but I was wondering if anyone could explain a rule/formula I could follow for deciding if the sentence does, in fact, have two independent clauses & needs a comma or if they are sharing a subject and no comma is needed?

I think I just thought of a good example:

"To put it simply, I'm going to go to the store and then I'll visit Mary."

Assuming the visit to Mary is also "putting it simply," would there be a comma? Is there some rule about a comma when there are two different verbs or when there's an introductory/prepositional phrase? Basically, I'm looking for some hard definitive rule(s) to follow. Googling is useless I think because I don't know how to word the question. Actually, I'd settle for the term the sentence is called. Then maybe I could google it.

  • I think that as a transcriptionist you probably encounter much longer sentences on average than you would as a copy editor, say. People don’t always plan their sentences before they start saying them. – Pam Mar 7 at 21:41
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    People rarely speak grammatically. If you're actually transcribing what they say, it's doubtful that they always say it in a way that could be transcribed in a grammatical fashion. This kind of question has come up before—and I keep wondering if there aren't style or grammar guides specific to transcriptions. – Jason Bassford Mar 7 at 22:05
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    "Is there a hard rule" It's English, so no. There are no hard rules in English. – only_pro Mar 8 at 17:01
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    @only_pro - That should be There, are no hard, rules in, English. – Hot Licks Mar 8 at 17:07
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    @HotLicks D'oh, of course, you're right! :D – only_pro Mar 8 at 17:11
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Question: "Is there a hard rule for where commas go when there SEEMS to be two independent clauses but there's only one subject?"

If there are two independent clauses there have to be two subjects, since two subjects and two verbs are the minimal requirements for two independent clauses joined in whatever manner by conjunctions, these are compound sentences. Traditional grammar does use a comma here for these compound sentences containing a conjunction:

You can leave now, or you can go later.

BUT:

You can leave now or go later. [two verbs, same subject]

compound sentence

Sample sentence: "To put it simply, I'm going to go to the store, and then I'll visit Mary."

Point One: That is an example of two independent clauses: the first is: "I'm going to the store" and the second is "I'll visit Mary". There are two subjects and they are both the pronoun "I". As already stated, traditional grammar does put a comma between them. In general, two independent clauses are joined by conjunctions like "or" or "and" or "but" etc.

Sample sentence stated differently:

"To put it simply, I'm going to go to the store and then to Mary's house."

Point Two: Now, the phrase "To put it simply" precedes the sentence and does call for a comma. Anything idea expressed by a phrase or even a single word such as an adverb that comes first, does need a comma.

Truthfully, I never thought it was a good book.

I never truthfully thought it was a good book.

Point Three: Had the sample sentence been:

"To put it simply, I'm going to go to the store and then the gym", that would be a complex sentence (two predicates) and also does not call for a comma. It has one subject and verb and two predicates joined by "and".

Point Four: When you have a complex sentence with a subordinating conjunction (which makes for a complex sentence), it has to be placed correctly:

He had a big heart since he was raised that way.

BUT

Since he was raised that way, he had a big heart.

To simplify, when you have an independent and dependent clause, if the dependent clause precedes the independent one, you need a comma:

She did not want to date him even though she found him attractive.
Compared to:
Even though she found him attractive, she did not want to date him.

complex sentences

Finally, (am I repeating myself?) there is a difference between sharing a subject and having the subject stated twice:

They left early and got lost [complex sentence]. versus: They left early, and they got lost. [compound sentence]

"A coordinating conjunction joining two independent clauses creates a compound sentence and requires a comma before the coordinating conjunction."

coordinating conjunctions and two independent clauses

Advice: make sure of whether your sentences are two independent clauses, both of which must have a Subject and Verb or Subject Verb and Predicate, in which case you need a comma before the coordinating conjunction VERSUS a dependent and an independent clause which may or may not need a comma depending on how it is stated. (See the example with "lost" above).

That said, with transcription, things can get dicey. There are no rules here other than the transcriptionist's ability and skill in hearing speech. I have personal experience of this, as I am an interpreter (legal) and have to deal with deponents all the time. Many times, speech is halting, truncated, filled with filler words, hesitation, and repetitions, to name a few. These are often punctuated in ways one would not see in traditional dialogues or speech formats. (And often, the lawyers can get really annoying because they are looking for black-and-white, clear speech, which most times is never what the deponent gives them, unless they ask for a yes or no answer.)

For instance, one uses square brackets for things like inaudible or unclear: [inaudible] or even a question mark [?]. Also, ellipsis is common where speech trails off.... Within an utterance, the ellipsis can indicate a pause and at the end (terminal ellipsis), it can indicate trailing off.

All this said, transcription is actually more of an art. There are choices to be made by the transcriptionist and that will largely depend on education, experience and cultural knowledge. Also, transcribing from a tape and in person also is not the same "exercise". Transcribed speech will never be some clean, antiseptic grammatical exercise. It is a messy business by definition and the transcriptionist (and the interpreter) does their best to render the meaning provided by a deponent. In fact, in depositions with interpreters, the transcriptionist is actually taking down what the interpreter says. :)

One awful example I can contribute: I had a deponent that was functionally illiterate in her mother tongue and English. When asked what the weather was at the time of the accident, she said, supposedly in the language I was interpreting: shhkno estor. I had to stop the proceeding and ask her: She was saying snow storm and I was simply unable to "get it", as I was listening for Spanish. Ah, life is good and interpretation's a bitch. :)

  • Lambie, Thank you so much for your thoughtful answer. I feel your pain in the legal & English-as-a-second-language field. I used to transcribe depositions, where witnesses are nervous & stuttery, & I also transcribed for a company that had interpreters 80% of the time, & while I applaud people for learning a second language, as I wish I did, it's not fun to transcribe! I love you explanation of our jobs. That actually helped me relax a lot. It IS messy & it does take art to render the meaning, & luckily we have their inflection to help us with that. cont.... – Lisa Mar 9 at 14:38
  • Lambie - cont... As far as my question goes, I think my big hangup was when there's an introductory/prepositional phrase. I was thinking, since that phrase went with both independent clauses, then it doesn't warrant a comma, but I know now that that is incorrect. And thanx for the clarification of commas after independent clauses followed by dependent clauses. I am ALWAYS conflicted on when to put a comma... and of course, that's where that "art & interpretation" comes in handy! Thank you, again, Lambie! These comma issues were really getting to me, & you helped a lot! :) – Lisa Mar 9 at 14:38
  • @Lisa. Thanks for your comments. Just one more detail for now. In speech, there are not very often those pre-positioned phrases as you find in writing. [See? There's one "in speech", ha ha.]. Most often, I find [there's another], people stick pretty much to Subject Verb Object or short sentences. Only more "sophisticated" speakers or speakers delivering speeches will use pre-positoned phrasing like that. Yep, art is right. Show your taskmasters this fine summary of speech: uefap.com/speaking/feature/complex.htm (or tell them the sun doesn't shine everywhere [guffaw]).Cheers. – Lambie Mar 9 at 15:24
  • And grammar is often out the window. :) – Lambie Mar 9 at 15:25
  • LOL! SO true! I'm sure I don't speak grammatically correct either. It drives me crazy though when I hear people say things like "There's ten puppies." It's- There ARE ten puppies. And these are educated people saying this! Oh, well, what can ya do... – Lisa Mar 10 at 19:07

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