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"As I saw it, the relationship between a typical African and his dog is one of tangible mutualism. I say tangible because the African sees himself as the dominant creature not to be bothered by the dog, but nevertheless responsible for providing for it."

Why is a comma necessary before but? If you have a comma before a coordinating conjunction, doesn't that mean both sides of the "but" have to be independent clauses? However, in this case, "nevertheless responsible for providing for it" doesn't make sense by itself so it is not an independent clause. If it is wrong to put a semi colon in the place of that comma, surely it should be wrong to put a comma there as well.

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  • I'm not really happy with the punctuation. '... the African sees himself as the dominant creature not to be bothered by the dog' reads as containing a defining passive infinitival. I'd want 'I say tangible because the African sees himself as the dominant creature – not to be bothered by the dog, but nevertheless responsible for providing for it.' This 'but' is now contrasting two (equivalent) fragments. Dec 9, 2019 at 19:43
  • Why did you put a comma before the but? I thought the only time you put a comma before a coordinating conjunctive is when you are connecting two independent clauses. Is "nevertheless responsible for providing for it" an independent clause? If so where is the subject in this clause?
    – Seneka
    Dec 9, 2019 at 19:52
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    Please look up 'comma' + 'coordinating conjunction' here on ELU. It's been covered before (and people who've been taught over-simplistic 'rules' keep asking this question). Dec 9, 2019 at 20:08
  • Does this answer your question? Comma before 'but' Dec 11, 2019 at 4:25
  • 2
    Does this answer your question? Comma before "and" in compound sentences? Feb 13, 2021 at 16:32

2 Answers 2

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Commas, and all punctuation, should be used to help readability and, if desired, avoid ambiguity. Something you will find in most major style guides. Punctuation is not a matter of slavish adherence.

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"But" itself is a coordinating conjunction. But "nevertheless" is a conjunctive adverb that has its own specific meaning. "So" is coordinating conjunction but "therefore" is a conjunctive adverb. Therefore, that clause can have a specific meaning because of the conjunctive adverb but the conjunction that leads that clause is coordinating conjunction, which means that clause can need a comma.

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