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I have heard the following usage of 'so' quite frequently in Indian schools:

He was sick so he did not come.

Isn't this incorrect? I prefer this usage:

He was sick, and so he did not come.

My first part of the question is some kind of attestation on whether the first usage is even remotely correct.

My second part is: Could we improve upon the first sentence using some punctuation? Would a comma before 'so' make it correct if it is wrong? Or, should it be a semicolon before so and then a comma afterwards? I am writing them below:

He was sick, so he did not come. He was sick; so, he did not come.

Please give your valuable inputs, people.

PS: I would also like your comments on whether 'so' is a coordinator in itself. Or should it be 'and so'? I would like answers in formal English, as I need this information as a teacher of English and a writer.

  • In the first example (using so) it is clear that the reason he did not come is because he was sick. In the second (using and) it is merely a statement of two facts with no implications between the two. – Jim Mar 22 '14 at 17:08
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    He was sick, and therefore he did not come => He was sick, and so he did not come => He was sick, so he did not come. All are grammatical, speaker's choice. There is very rarely only one grammatical way to say something. – John Lawler Mar 22 '14 at 17:13
  • @JohnLawler: Is it all right to say "He was sick so he did not come" - without the comma? – Neil D'Silva Mar 22 '14 at 17:15
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    Commas are only in writing, so you can't say them. Punctuation has almost nothing to do with grammar. Commas should be inserted whenever you hear the comma intonation, and not otherwise. – John Lawler Mar 22 '14 at 17:16
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I would use the comma in the first of your "corrections", however it is also correct to leave it out. I would not use the semicolon. The semicolon joins two related complete sentences, which is also the function of the coordinating conjunction "so". You don't need to use both of them.

  • Would it be correct to not use any punctuation at all? – Neil D'Silva Mar 23 '14 at 11:10
  • Yes, John Lawler's second comment is correct. Also see Damkerng's excellent answer below. – BobRodes Mar 24 '14 at 13:10
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It would depend on your style manual. Here are excerpts from two style manuals I could find on the web.

From COMMA - National Geographic Style Manual:

 5. COMMAS BETWEEN INDEPENDENT CLAUSES (COMPOUND SENTENCES)

Commas: Use a comma between independent clauses joined by and, but, for, or, nor, either . . . or, neither . . . nor, so, yet, unless the clauses are short and closely joined in thought: The ice thins out and patches appear.

"He was sick so he did not come," is short and closely joined in thought, so a comma is optional.

From The Canadian Style - 7.15 The Comma, Co-ordinate elements - 7 Punctuation:

(b) Clauses
A comma is normally used to separate two main clauses in a compound sentence when they are joined by a co-ordinating conjunction (and, but, or, nor, yet or for):

  • They are often called individualists, and in economic matters they were, but in social matters, the dominating concept was that of good neighbourliness.
    —M. M. Fahrni

If the clauses are short or closely related, the commas may be omitted before and, but, or or nor:

  • He opened the letter and then he read the contents.
  • Life is short but art is long.

If you followed this style manual, you should use a comma: "He was sick, so he did not come."

  • T: Thank you. I am more in accord with the (b) part of your explanation. However, I still have a question:- Is 'so' a coordinator in itself? Or is it 'and so'? This is the actual root of my question. – Neil D'Silva Mar 23 '14 at 3:48
  • As far as I know, so is tricky. With different sets of grammar rules, you could end up with so being a coordinating conjunction (aka it's one in the FANBOYS), or you could end up with so being an adverb (specifically, connective adverb being used as a connective adjunct, which is imo a good analysis for the case of and so). – Damkerng T. Mar 23 '14 at 7:10

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