I am confused with the usage of so.

Consider some examples from Oxford and Meriam-webster

  1. It was still painful so I went to see a doctor (Oxford).
  2. We were bored with the movie, so we left (MW).
  3. There are no more chairs available, so you'll have to stand (MW).

So is a conjunction in all the above sentences. But I don't understand when to place a comma before it. So is one of FANBOYS. Thus, we have use a comma when it connects two independent clauses, which I think contradict the first sentence.

Is the placement of comma before so depends on a style guide? For example, Americans prefer a comma while the British doesn't.

  • 1
    I don't think it would be wrong to put a comma in (1). See this link – Kate Bunting Jan 2 '20 at 9:12

First of all, I don't think this is a matter of "so" at all. It is essentially the issue of commas with coordinating conjunctions: FANBOYS.

Yes, when two independent clauses are connected with a conjunction, a comma is often used. This is not a strict rule, but a general guideline (note how I used a comma before 'but' even though it is not needed/recommended there—I used it there just to reflect a pause in my speech; in a formal context, I would not put the comma there).

It is a good idea to follow the guidelines when you are writing something formal (e.g., academic papers, college applications, official reports, emails, etc.) and then be consistent throughout your work. When you are writing something that is informal (fiction, emails, ELL answers, etc.), feel free to use punctuation to convey your tone (e.g., comma to denote a pause in speech).

In this case, the use of comma has nothing to do with AmE or BrE. The only time a "comma" has something to do with AmE/BrE, is when it's an "oxford/serial" comma.

Oh well, let me now state the "rule":

If the two independent clauses (compound sentence) are short and closely related, you may omit the comma. Source: Commas and Independent Clauses

However, do not omit the comma if doing so creates ambiguity. The most important thing is clarity.

Here is something from an authoritative source, The Chicago Manual of Style Guide, 17th ed. (emphasis added):

When independent clauses are joined by and, but, or, so, yet, or any other coordinating conjunction, a comma usually precedes the conjunction.

If the clauses are very short and closely connected, the comma may be omitted (as in the last two examples) unless the clauses are part of a series. These recommendations apply equally to imperative sentences, in which the subject (you) is omitted but understood (as in the fifth and last examples).

  1. We activated the alarm, but the intruder was already inside.
  2. All watches display the time, and some of them do so accurately.
  3. Do we want to foster creativity, or are we interested only in our intellectual property?
  4. The bus never came, so we took a taxi.
  5. Wait for me at the bottom of the hill on Buffalo Street, or walk up to Eddy Street and meet me next to the Yield sign.
  6. Donald cooked, Sally poured the wine, and Maddie and Cammie offered hors d’oeuvres.

but [no comma in these]

7. Electra played the guitar and Tambora sang.
8. Raise your right hand and repeat after me.

Source: CMoS, 6.22: Commas with independent clauses joined by coordinating conjunctions

  • Re: sentence #6, does the length of the individual independent clauses play a role in if we can join more than two independent clauses like that, that is, with a comma and coordinating conjunction between the last pair of clauses, and just a comma separating all other pairs? Or does the length of the conjoined clauses not factor at all? – HeWhoMustBeNamed Jan 18 '20 at 11:40

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