And then…


I recently submitted my full manuscript to a publisher for review. After three weeks I received a response. It wasn’t a rejection, exactly. In fact, it was a gold mine of information. They returned my manuscript properly and sufficiently bled on, and it contained some amazing advice along with an offer to re-submit if I decided to make the changes. Hmm, let me think. Of course I’ll make the changes! Duh. I mean, they weren’t things I couldn’t live without.

I did, however, find an interesting comment they made about the conjunction ‘and then’.

Apparently, I used these two words together a lot, and I didn’t realize it. They properly commented that and then is not a proper conjunction and I needed to fix it. Can do. No problem. However, in defense of these two little words, there are times when and then must be used, and like with all English grammar rules, we need to know when to use it.

We all know conjunctions are used to connect two independent clauses and they are usually preceded by a comma. We all recognize these conjunctive words: and, for, but, nor, and yet. Many writers believe the word ‘thenworks the same way but it doesn’t. Take for example the following sentence:

David shoved Charlotte out of the way just as the beast lunged, then passed right through him as if he wasn’t there.

This sentence is incorrect. Why?

You can tell the difference between then and a coordinating conjunction by trying to move the word then around in the sentence. We can write “It passed right through him, then, as if he wasn’t there.” Or “It then passed right through him as if he wasn’t there.” Or “It passed right through him as if it wasn’t there then.” In all of these cases the then can move around within the clause. Try that with a conjunction and you’ll see that the conjunction cannot move around.

David shoved Charlotte out of the way just as the beast lunged, and then passed right through him as if he wasn’t there.

The conjunction and is stuck where it is and cannot move around like then, which makes it more of an adverbial conjunction than a coordinating conjunction. The original sentence without the and is commonly referred to as a comma splice. Comma splices are faulty sentence construction in which a comma tries to hold together two independent clauses by itself. The comma needs a coordinating conjunction to help out, and the word then doesn’t work that way.

Let this rule not be confused with:

David rubbed his chin and then said, “I have an idea.”

In this case, and then is not a proper conjunction because you can remove the word then and still be left with a complete sentence: David rubbed his chin and said, “I have an idea.”

So, if you’re ever wondering whether to use or not to use and then…take a look at your two independent clauses…and then fix accordingly.

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