Learn English – Semi-colon or comma before then


Should a semi-colon or a comma go before the 'then'?

John ate an apple,/; then he ate an orange.

From what I remember, 'then' should follow a semi-colon when between two independent clauses; however, I also remember something about using a comma before 'then' when it represents 'next in line' when regarding the order of actions in time.

Anyway, just a bit confused and could use a definitive answer.


((I understand there may be other ways to construct that sentence, but I'm really just after a clarification on the rules regarding punctuation and 'then'))

Best Answer

If you put punctuation there, you need either a period or a semicolon. That's because "Then" isn't a coordinating conjunction but a subordinating conjunction, so it doesn't call for a comma to precede it when it introduces an additional clause (i.e., a subordinate clause) to a sentence. What this means is if you make it one sentence, you would write, "John ate an apple then he ate an orange." Personally, I would either write, "John ate an apple then ate an orange," or write," John ate an apple. Then he ate an orange."

By the way, when "then" starts a sentence like it would if you were to use a period or semicolon beforehand in those sentences, then it isn't being used as a conjunction but as an adverb, a sentence connector.