Commas after "but" or "But"

Mark_Harbinger

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Ah, okay. I probably will regret this. This is something I thought I knew. Then I relearned it while working with my copy editor for my novel. And now, as I try to apply that, nothing looks correct to me. Not my previous way. Not what I've learned. And, before I ask, let me say. I'm not a grammar-phobe, per sé, but my relationship with it is similar to when Woody Allen said, "I am two with nature."

Here is my question. For longer paragraphs, I like the pacing of using a semi-colon and starting the second part of the paragraph with "but, "

I realize that the semi-colon is supposed to obviate the need for the conjunction; but, sometimes, the entire formulation really seems most appropriate.

I used to only use the comma sparingly, for effect. But my copy-editor pressed me to basically always use the comma when starting anything with "but".

I am extremely interested in any and all opinions on the comma (and about the use of the semi-colon and/or the conjunction, as well). Please don't pull any punches...


Thank to everyone, in advance!

Best,
_Mark
 
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Pyan

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Can you give us an example of one of your sentences with the semi-colon in use, please?
It should help, but maybe not. Alternatively, it should help; but maybe not.
 

Margaret Note Spelling

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But my copy-editor pressed me to basically always use the comma when starting anything with "but".
I realize that the semi-colon is supposed to obviate the need for the conjunction; but, sometimes, the entire formulation really seems most appropriate.
If I'm understanding your question correctly, these two sentences are in fact meant to be self-referential.

I have strong feelings about beginning a sentence this way: "But, it wasn't meant to kill anybody!" As a writer, I usually determine the position of my commas based on which words are meant to be emphasized in the sentence--how it's supposed to "sound" when read--and where a reader is meant to mentally "take a breath". To me, placing the comma immediately after a "But", with no other accompanying reason, will inordinately emphasize that "But" by forcing a breath and a pause where there wouldn't naturally be one. If you read it out loud with a pause for the comma, and then read it aloud without, you'll hear what I'm talking about. "But it wasn't meant to kill anybody!" reads more smoothly, and emphasizes the word "kill" much better for the purposes of your sentence.

As to the semi-colon issue, I would just apply the same rules to the latter half of it that I would for any normal sentence: if there's meant to be a breathing space after "but", such as with your insertion of the word "sometimes", then it's perfectly fine, and works on its own. "But, sometimes, the entire formulation really seems most appropriate." It's fine. It does emphasize the word "sometimes", of course, which may or may not be something you want. The sentence, "But sometimes the entire formulation really seems most appropriate" works just as well for the reader, too. Or even, "But sometimes, the entire formulation really seems most appropriate."

At that point, I'd consider it's all up to the author's individual preference, depending on how he wants the text to sound; but in my experience, nobody in real life actually pauses after saying "but" unless they're genuinely hesitating, deliberately emphasizing that word, or inserting an independent clause/word in there like "sometimes".
 

ckatt

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@Mark_Harbinger
There are many opinions about comma use out there. But I'd like to stress that most of the time you shouldn't use an opinion to guide you. I find it better to think of it like spelling. Sure you can spell a word any way you want, but if you expect others to read what you have written, then you are best off following the standard.
Of course, the comma has many uses. When it comes to whether or not you need one with your conjunction, it depends if you are dealing with two complete clauses, and if not, you generally shouldn't use one. Commas have nothing to do with breathing room. That's all the detail I care to go into here.
But if you really care about readers understanding your intention, I'd recommend getting your hands on a grammar book that is standard for your type of English (British, American, Canadian, etc.), and don't ask an internet forum for there's opinions. Anything beyond standard use is creative use. And what works for some people may not work for you, so it's best you know what the agreed-upon rules are before you start breaking them.
 

tinkerdan

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In some case you could use a comma but it's not necessary.
Sometimes you might be tempted to leave it out, but sometimes it is better to keep it.

A semi-colon might seem appropriate but not at all necessary.
You could force the semi-colon; but you should probably use a comma.
There might be a chance for a semi-colon when several commas are in use, but, in most cases, a comma will do unless you think three commas is too much.
So you might just put a semi-colon; but, in most cases, it isn't really necessary.
 

Pyan

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If it was good enough for Edgar Allen Poe:

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door—
"'Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door—
Only this and nothing more."


Nine commas and three long dashes!
 

Mark_Harbinger

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If it was good enough for Edgar Allen Poe:

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door—
"'Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door—
Only this and nothing more."


Nine commas and three long dashes!
Ah, yes, well, my emdashes aren't negotiable.

Me: "You can have my emdashes when you pry them from my cold—dead—"
 

Pyan

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That's ok - I feel the same about ellipses, as people have commented on before...
 

Mark_Harbinger

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—ing off to see a total...of the sun.
...And you're so vain—
"Oh! No—this is 'Abuse'. The Writing in Passive Aggressive Voice Workshop is 12A, next door..."
 

Mark_Harbinger

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My sincere thanks to everyone for their suggestions. Be well!
 

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