Combining clauses (complete thoughts) can be confusing, and it’s, no doubt, something that scares most students. Okay, it’s something that scares all of us, and something the best of us get wrong from time to time. Here’s a list of commonly used punctuation scenarios as well as some additional resources listed throughout and at after the list. Many of these are simplified for example, but I’ve provided more detailed examples as supplemental resources as well.


  1. Complete thought + comma conjunction + complete thought.
    • I want to travel to Europe, and I want to see the Louvre.
    • List of conjunctions: FANBOYS: For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So
  2. Complete thought + semicolon + transitional word + comma + complete thought.
    • I want to travel to Europe; in fact, I want to see the Louvre.
      Examples of transitional words/adverbial conjunctions: also, besides, instead, therefore, nonetheless, furthermore, for instance, likewise, in addition, for example, however, otherwise
  3. Complete thought + semicolon + complete thought.
    • I want to travel to Europe; I want to see the Louvre.


  1. Complete thought + no punctuation + subordinating conjunction + dependent clause
    • I want to travel to Europe even though I don’t speak another language.
    • Examples of subordinating conjunctions: after, until, while, since, thought, unless, because, whether, rather than, provided that, where, wherever
  2. Transitional word + dependent clause + comma + complete thought.
    • Even though I don’t speak another language, I want to travel to Europe.
    • Examples of transitional words/subordinating conjunctions: after, until, unless, because, since, whenever, as if, rather than, while, since

Comma Boat (Subordination with Relative Pronoun Clauses)

  1. Complete thought initiated + comma + nonessential thought + comma + complete thought completed.
    • I want to travel to Europe, which will take years of putting money aside, to see the Louvre.
    • The sentence “I want to travel to Europe to see the Louvre” is the complete thought here, and the nonessential thought “which will take years of putting money aside” is floating in the sentence in a comma boat.

Other Comma Usage Scenarios

  1. Transitional/Introductory word + comma + complete thought.
    • Eventually, I want to travel to Europe.
    • On September 28, 2017, I published this post on my website, and I hope it helps some students with their concerns about punctuation.
    • Common transitional words: however, additionally, eventually, oftentimes
  2. Incomplete thought + comma + incomplete thought + comma + complete thought.
    • Even though I don’t have the funds right now, considering I am good at saving money, I want to travel to Europe.
  3. Use commas to separate a list; the final comma MUST BE USED when it helps clarify the means to readers:
    • I like dogs, cats, and rats.
      • the comma here is optional because reader won’t be confused by this sentence.
    • I like spaghetti, ravioli, and macaroni and cheese.
      • the comma here is necessary to help clarify the meaning because there are so many “ands”
    • I want to travel to Europe, drink coffee in the best coffee house in Paris, gaze into the eyes of Mona Lisa, and have enough money to bring my brother.

Dash and Colons

  1. Dashes are used to emphasize or define.
    • The sky was a deep shade of green–chartreuse.
    • The sky was such  deep shade of green–chartreuse–that I was worried whether I should take shelter.
  2. Colons are used to set-up a list or to answer an implied question, with a few stipulations:
    1. Use a colon after a complete thought.
    2. Do not use a colon after a words such as including or excluding.
    3. Do not use a colon after a verb.
    4. No colon used because of the verb and its not a complete thought: She ordered two shoes, three bags, and four pairs of Star Wars socks.
    5. Can use a colon because it’s a complete thought: Yesterday she ordered a ton of items: two shoes, three bags, and four Star Wars socks.

Resources (I’ll add some more): 

Sentence Patterns

General Punctuation Resource


Writing About Literature

When writing a literary analysis, many students focus heavily on their chosen interpretation of the literary work(s), their unique thesis, and/or finding and using appropriate sources to support their arguments. And that is absolutely what they should be doing.

However, because those are big tasks and students are almost always taking at least one other course and working at the same time (some are even raising children, working full time, running businesses, or dealing with big family or personal health concerns), it’s very easy to overlook the tiny details that professors expect into a college-level literary essay. Here’s a quick list that will help you stay in the grade range your argument deserves rather than lose you points due to the “important small stuff.”

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Transitional Language

Transitions and students don’t often get along well. And that’s because transitioning from paragraph to paragraph, from signal phrase to source/citation, or from one concept to the next is a bit of an art form that takes practice and planning. You just heard “blah blah blah” in your head, right? I know…

Here are a few transitional language resources that could help:

  1. My favorite link to transitional words or phrases.
  2. Another more complex list of transitional words broken up by category such as additive, causal, sequential, or contrasting.
  3. A thesaurus list of commonly used verbs to reference sources that can be used to transition between a signal phrase and a direct or paraphrase/summary citation. The dark orange list is the best.
  4. A one page, printable PDF of verbs used in MLA or APA signal phrases.