Monday, August 09, 2010

Editorial Tip of the Week: Splice It Up

The comma splice is a common mistake, I've been guilty of it myself plenty of times. Did you catch that one? With so many ways to use commas, things can get a bit tricky. A comma splice is the joining together of two main clauses with a comma (incorrect), instead of a conjunction, semicolon, or period. Luckily, the answer to correcting your comma splices is right there in the definition. So let's take it one by one:

1. Coordinating Conjunctions

Most commonly, commas are used to separate two main clauses connected by a coordinating conjunction. In other words, if you're joining two things that could function as independent sentences, you need to be using something like "and," "but," or "or." Example:

Charlie ran into the backyard, and Maggie searched for the bones.

Both work on their own as complete sentences. To combine them with a comma, simply add in a coordinating conjunction. Without the coordinating conjunction, you have a comma splice: Charlie ran into the backyard, Maggie searched for the bones.

2. Semicolons

If the two clauses are closely related, a semicolon can be used to splice them:

Charlie ran into the backyard; he was looking for bones.

These two things can exist as individual sentences: Charlie ran into the backyard. He was looking for bones. Because the two are related, they can be joined with a semicolon.

3. Periods

When you are aware of a comma splice, it's very easy to fix them. Because the splice joins together two main clauses, those two can be separated into individual sentences. Simply use a period where the comma was:

Charlie ran into the backyard. Maggie searched for the bones.

Give it a try yourself. Each comma splice has it's own personality, so one way to fix it may be better than another. Some instances will lend themselves more to coordinating conjunctions, while others may not make sense with a conjunction.

There is always the question of stylistic writing: should writers be allowed to use comma splices and other mistakes for the sake of their art? Every once in a while, someone skirts the rules and is still a successful author, but it's much more common that your punctuation and grammatical mistakes are unintentional. For the sake of your readers (and editors!), stick by the rules.

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