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I wrote this sentence, but now I doubt that it is correct concerning commas.

However, this proves to be difficult because Mary declares, at first, that she is not able to seek pardon (,) but the night before her execution her attitude changes and she prays to God that he might forgive her.

First of all, there are a lot of them and I don´t and know if I need one in front of "but". It seems to be an independent clause but actually, the only sentence that makes sense on its own seems to be "this proves to be difficult"?.

I thought about doing it like this:

However, this proves to be difficult because Mary declares that she is not able to seek pardon at first; the night before her execution her attitude changes and she prays to God that he might forgive her.

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In English there are no actual rules around the use of commas. The comma represents the pause you would hear when someone is speaking the sentence out loud. Some people pause more, and some people pause less. It's also a convenient way to break up a sentence into separate pieces to make it easier to understand.

When first learning English you should follow the general guidelines for when to use commas: before quotes, to separate the parts of a list of items, after certain conjunctions, etc. But once you get used to the language you may add or remove commas as you feel sounds best for what you want to say.

So to answer your question: both of your examples are fine. You could even add another couple of commas if you wanted. I'm not a fan of the semicolon but that's just my personal opinion. You seem to understand punctuation well enough that you can choose what sounds best to you.


As a humorous aside, the famous author Kurt Vonnegut had this to say about the semicolon:

Here is a lesson in creative writing. The first rule: do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.

A fun discussion of the topic

  • The problem is that I will have to teach English in school (German school). We have to have rules. In this case " "independent+independent clause with a conjunction rule". I never have problems in German when it comes to commas. I wondered about the "but sentence" because it seems to be non-essential/dependent clause and then not. That is why I wanted a definite answer. Do you think "The night before her execution her attitude changes and she prays to God that he might forgive her?" can stand on its own? It seems there is still a slight reference to the preceding sentence, isn´t there. – Marcin Nowak Mar 3 '18 at 17:28
  • It gets even more complicated. I must be able to determine every possible grammatical issue (in terms of the learning content). Which sentence is TRULY independent? "During imprisonment, divines visit her several times and try to convert and bring her to repentance" is the preceding sentence before the one above. The clause " this proves to be difficult" seems to be the only independent here but taken out of context, who will understand this sentence without the preceding mentioned here in this comment? I never thought about that?! It´s part of an essay. If asked, how to do answer to that?? – Marcin Nowak Mar 3 '18 at 17:37
  • @MarcinNowak Unfortunately, these so-called "rules" are not how English is actually used. Yes, I personally would choose to break up a long sentence in order to make it easier to read, but it's not wrong without commas. At some point it comes down to a question of style, not grammar, and it wouldn't do you any good to tell you otherwise. – Andrew Mar 3 '18 at 21:16
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    +1, Yes, I agree there are no hard and fast rules about the use of comma. And, it's worth mentioning that different manuals of style may present different stances. – Lucian Sava Mar 4 '18 at 11:50

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