The Comma Splice

Your teachers point them out all the time, but what actually is a comma splice?

In technical lingo, a comma splice is when two independent clauses are joined with only a comma.

Metaphorically, you’ve slapped together two buns with ketchup but left out the hamburger.

Example: Plastic water bottles are taxing on the environment, millions of tons of bottles are added to the ocean every year.

On either side of a comma splice is a complete thought with a subject and a verb (I ran, I jumped). Usually, we are told to replace the comma with a period, but there are actually several ways to adjust this sentence.

 

Examples:

  1. Add a conjunction. Plastic water bottles are taxing on the environment, but millions of tons of bottles are added to the ocean every year.
  2. Add a semicolon. Plastic water bottles are taxing on the environment; millions of tons of bottles are added to the ocean every year.
  3. Make the 2nd clause dependent by removing the verb. Plastic water bottles are taxing on the environment, millions of tons of bottles added to the ocean every year.
  4. Make the 1st clause dependent by adding a subordinating conjunction. Even though plastic water bottles are taxing on the environment, millions of tons of bottles are added to the ocean every year.

 

But what’s the big deal? What’s wrong with a comma splice?

Comma splices make reading difficult, especially when an academic reader expects certain standards and anticipates sentences to be constructed in a particular way. Imagine you’re driving and know you have a turn up ahead. As you near it, you realize there’s no street sign telling you where to turn or where you’re turning. Can you get where you’re supposed to go? Of course. But that second of confusion is jolting and frustrating. You might even have to turn around and try again.

On the other hand, we use comma splices all the time in tweets and texts. You’ve probably texted a friend something like: “JK, don’t freak out, it’s fine.” We use these splices to convey a particular tone.

The bottom line is that punctuation is used just for that–conveying tone and meaning. So feel free to use comma splices, but consider the context and audience when doing so.

 

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A Comma Rule To Forget

You’ve probably heard it many times:

“Place a comma wherever you naturally pause.”

While it’s true that commas are meant to help readers know where to pause, and that they often go where you would naturally pause, this rule can make for comma-happy writers.

For example: “In the book, Harry Potter, by J.K. Rowling, Harry, finds out, on his eleventh birthday, that he is a wizard.”

After removing unnecessary and incorrect commas, we have: “In the book Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling, Harry finds out on his eleventh birthday that he is a wizard.”

While placing commas where we naturally pause is a great rule to start off with, it is one that is best forgotten as you learn where commas really go. That’s why, for the next few weeks, we will be tackling common comma errors.

 

 

 

Positively Appositive

Appositives are nouns or noun phrases that rename another noun, and they are usually surrounded by commas. They allow writers to color in the vague outlines of their subjects, giving them depth with shading and detail. Even if you’ve written them before, writing appositives regularly is a great way to train your mind to go deeper with descriptions.

Examples:

“The dog, a husky Labrador, romped outside.”

“We gathered at Henry’s, an eclectic coffee shop where local bands played.”

“Wendy pulled up her hair, a tangled mess after her trek in the rain, and covered it with a hat.”

 

 

Grammar blogs you should be following

If you write anything (even if you think you don’t write, you do) or say anything, no matter the medium or situation, expressing your point and clearly communicating with your audience is important. Good grammar is an essential tool in doing so; grammar provides the rules that make what we say and write make sense. If you want to be a better reader, writer, speaker, listener, and communicator, here are the grammar blogs you should be following:

Grammar Girlhttp://www.quickanddirtytips.com/grammar-girl

Grammar Girl is famous for her Quick and Dirty Tips ™ that define exactly what you need to know about a given grammatical situation. Not sure whether to say “bad” or “badly”? Need to know how to use a semicolon? Grammar Girl can tell you. In addition to the tips, Grammar Girl also has a fun and informative podcast.

Grammarist: http://grammarist.com/

Quick, easily consumable articles on grammar, usage, words and phrases, spelling, and style. It also has English and ESL resources and games. The games may be for kids; however, the games may also be kind of fun. We cannot confirm this (wink, wink).

Grammarly: https://www.grammarly.com/blog/category/writing/grammar/

In addition to their writing products, which include the free Grammarly spellcheck browser extension we’ve mentioned in a previous post, Grammarly has an informative blog on grammar and writing situations (because they’re super good at content marketing). Past topics include how to tell the difference between adjectives and adverbs, how to use good grammar in online dating, and fun quizzes like “Are You a Grammar Troll?” (Turns out, I’m a pedantic grammar troll…)

Merriam-Webster’s Twitterhttps://twitter.com/MerriamWebster?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor

This isn’t actually a blog, but Merriam-Webster shares a lot of great and timely articles on grammar and word use on their Twitter account. Also, m-w hilariously trolls the frequent misuse and abuse of words by our country’s most visible politicians.

The WKU Writing Center blog: wkuwritingcenter.wordpress.com

We post things about grammar, and we’re big proponents of self-promotion.

If you have questions about grammar and would like to learn how to identify the patterns of grammatical error in your writing, the Writing Center can help! Visit the Writing Center today or set up an appointment online. We’re open from 9 AM to 4 PM in 123 Cherry Hall and 4 PM to 9 PM in the Academic Commons in Cravens, Monday through Thursday (9 AM to 3 PM in 123 Cherry Hall on Fridays).

Punctuation: Remember your marks!

There are days when I thank all that’s good that we don’t have to use punctuation when we speak out loud.  However, these little annoying marks seem to be the only thing that keeps order in our written language.  They’re our bread and butter.  I’ve come to embrace them.  But there are so many, and their rules can get complicated.  So … what’s the best way to approach the stuff?
Use humor to remember them.  There’s funny stuff all over the internet that can help you remember the basics.  Thanks to “The Oatmeal” (a beautiful website that’s already been referenced once in this article) and other funny internet sources, I’ve put a few pics up here for everyone to see.  There are three punctuation marks discussed below: the apostrophe, the comma (in its Oxford comma use), and the semicolon.
Of course, these examples aren’t all that the apostrophe, comma, and semicolon can do, but they’re excellent examples of fun ways to jog the memory concerning punctuation.  Good punctuation is crucial to making good papers.  If you’re ever in doubt about a mark, don’t be afraid to look up what it does.  Learning punctuation is always a continual process; even professionals screw it up sometimes.  And, if you have to, find funny ways like these to remember how they work.
– Amanda

This post was originally published on April 27, 2013.