Wednesday Writing Tip: The Comma Splice

Hey Master’s Programs students!

We each have our own techniques for deciding when to use a comma. Some place a comma every time they would take a breath while reading their paper aloud. Others use intuition and insert a comma wherever they “feel” like one is called for. Disreputable writers fall back on divination or blind guessing, while the most honorable among us consult the punctuation guidelines in the 6th edition of the APA Publication Manual (pp. 87-96, hint, hint).

As the writing advisor, I often see one particular breach of the APA comma rules: the comma splice. The comma splice occurs when a writers joins two complete sentences together with only a comma.
For example: Sue Ann doesn’t know how to use a comma, I’m exasperated!
[Note that there is a full sentence before the comma, and another full sentence after it.]

There are a few options for correcting a comma splice.

1. Change the comma to a semi-colon (;).
Sue Ann doesn’t know how to use a comma; I’m exasperated!

2. Add a conjunction. The acronym FANBOYS is a helpful acronym for the seven correlating conjunctions in English: For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So. Note that all of these are only two or three letters long. You can’t use words like therefore, moreover, however, or thus, because they’re not part of the FANBOYS acronym. (And all those words have more than three letters!)
Sue Ann doesn’t know how to use a comma, so I’m exasperated!

3. Change the comma to a period.
Sue Ann doesn’t know how to use a comma. I’m exasperated!

4. The fourth method, subordination, is a little tricky, but it can make for a more elegant sentence. Basically, you make either the first or second sentence into a dependent clause (a kind of fragment).
For example: Because Sue Ann doesn’t know how to use a comma, I’m exasperated!
Or I’m exasperated since Sue Ann doesn’t know how to use a comma.
[Note that you can often reverse the order of the sentences, as in the second example above.]

Use your newfound comma splice knowledge responsibly!

Happy writing,

James

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