Consider the following sentence:

The independent filmmaker Ira Sachs’s drama “Keep the Lights On,” which opened on Friday, is neither an especially good movie nor an especially bad one, but it is an exemplary one.

(source: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/movies/2012/09/the-problem-with-the-liberal-cinema.html#ixzz25u38hVsZ ).

I am confused about the comma that precedes "but." Is "It is an exemplary one" an independent clause? The rule of a thumb I use is a can-it-stand-by-itself test; the sentence above sounds kind of awkward by itself, though I guess it could work. If it's not an independent clause, then why the comma?

closed as general reference by MetaEd, StoneyB, coleopterist, Mitch, tchrist Oct 1 '12 at 21:01

This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • "It is an exemplary one" is a complete sentence. It sounds awkward because both its subject and object are references that can't be resolved without context. – SevenSidedDie Sep 8 '12 at 18:15
  • 'Complete' means it has a subject and a verb, and an object if the verb demands it. It doesn't have to stand alone as an idea. That would make it a sentence rather than a clause. – Roaring Fish Sep 8 '12 at 18:22
  • This is a very basic question. – MetaEd Sep 8 '12 at 19:34

It is an exemplary one is an independent clause because it is not subordinate to another clause. That would not be the case if, for example, it was even if it is an exemplary one. It is not the comma that determines whether a clause is independent or not. The comma, like all punctuation, is a convention used to help the reader. In this case, it is used to show that two clauses, which could in principle be separate, have been joined together.


Any clauses that are conjoined with and -- or disjoined with or -- are independent clauses.

But means the same as and, but includes extra information about expectations.

  1. Bill washed the dishes and Mary dried the dishes.
  2. Bill washed the dishes or Mary washed the dishes.
  3. Bill washed the dishes but Mary dried the dishes.

These are all compound sentences with two independent clauses each. In writing, commas are optional before the conjunctions; -- as always, commas should be written only if they are pronounced, and not otherwise.

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