Consider the following fill-in:

Mackenzie's clarinet squealed like a startled puppy, __ she hadn't practiced in weeks.

  1. because

  2. for

The presentation I'm looking at indicates "for" as the correct solution.

To me, "because" also sounds fine, but I would not use a comma after puppy in that case.

Is that essentially the reason "for" is best here, because of the way the fill-in is punctuated? Is "...puppy because..." valid also?


Your guess is right.

The exercise is trying to emphasize the difference between coordinator "for" and adverbial subordinator "because" in academic writing.

"For" is among a group of coordinating conjunctions best known by the phrase "fan boys." The group includes: F or, A nd, N or, B ut, O r, Y et, and S o.

When we combine clauses using one of the FAN BOYS, we normally put a comma after the first independent clause.

Independent clause + , + for + independent clause

On the other hand, "because" is an adverbial subordinator like although, if, while, when etc. Putting a comma between clauses depends on the position of your adverb clause. Like this:

  1. S + V + because ... . (no comma)

  2. Because ... + , + S + V. (with comma)

  • Ah! Then my instincts weren't completely unjustified! Thanks for the clear explanation. – rschwieb Aug 25 '12 at 11:28

The comma should be present in either case. Both clauses that follow puppy are independent clauses. The comma reflects the separation of those distinct and complete thoughts. You could as easily write

Mackenzie's clarinet squealed like a startled puppy. She hadn't practiced in weeks.

  • 2
    Thanks. I think a comma-with-because is something I have habitually omitted because I feel like it is interrupting a single thought. It is obviously two completely thoughts, as you say. – rschwieb Aug 24 '12 at 20:40
  • You could also drop the "because" or "for" thing and add a semicolon: "Mackenzie's clarinet squealed like a startled puppy; she hadn't practiced in weeks." I should also note that there is some ambiguity regarding whether "she" refers to Mackenzie or the puppy ... – g33kz0r Aug 24 '12 at 20:59
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    Complete thoughts is not the only thing that matters for comma placement. Counterexample: I think that Bob is crazy. Now I think and Bob is crazy can be two complete thoughts, but you (I presume) wouldn't write or say I think, that Bob is crazy. You have to do a more careful analysis of how because is functioning, and it can function differently in different instances. There is a perfectly good and reasonably nonarbitrary set of rules that don't put a comma here. Like the OP, I would not use one because of the way that the two clauses are related. – Rachel Aug 24 '12 at 21:12
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    @Rachel In your example, that Bob is crazy is a dependent clause. It is not a complete separate thought, but rather the direct object of the transitive verb, think. Yes, the sentence I think can be a complete thought, where the verb think is intransitive, but that is a wholly different meaning from your example. Complete thoughts are not the only thing, but in this case, do help decide comma use. – bib Aug 24 '12 at 22:22
  • @bib: because she hadn't practiced in weeks is also dependent, so my analogy and counterxample stand. Furthermore, complementizer that needn't be overt, so the objection is defeated either way. I only included that to strengthen the surface resemblance of the structures. My real argument (which won't fit in comments) would be about the semantics and pragmatics of the situation anyway, so many of these details are irrelevant. Perhaps you generally like adding commas. I would not have included the comma in "thing, but" in your last sentence. – Rachel Aug 24 '12 at 22:44

In 'A; for B', two coördinate statements are being made: (1) that A; and (2) that B is the reason for A. (For is a coördinating conjunction.) In 'A because B', (2) is expressed by a mere adverb, and therefore grammatically subordinate to (1). Still, my sense is that with because the emphasis is on (2). Or even stronger: it seems to me that 'A because B' does not really express A at all, but only that B is the reason for A.

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