Tagged with "English grammar"
Use Your Comma Sense Tags: punctuation spliced commas English grammar demise of punctuation

A belated Happy New Year to everyone at Writers Abroad! One of my New Year's resolutions is to brush up on my punctuation. A lot of writers (including me) have an ambivalent relationship with those pesky but oh-so- important marks.

When I’m teaching English and a student asks me to explain the use of commas, a sense of dread grips me. That deceptively simple-looking little mark has so many uses and misuses. In the spirit of facing my fears I will attempt to explain the use, or rather misuse, of the spliced comma. Other comma misuses are available, but I won’t be examining those. Now take a look at this sentence;

Dan locked himself in the bathroom, Tamara realised she’d have to face the burglars alone.

This ‘sentence’ actually comprises two main clauses. As a general rule, two main clauses cannot be joined by a comma. This is why it is called a spliced comma, because it mistakenly tries to splice two sentences into one. The sentence above is thus incorrect.

Our toolkit to fix the problem

Add a full stop (US period).

Easy peasy!

Dan locked himself in the bathroom. Tamara realised she’d have to face the burglars alone.

Add a semicolon.

Because the two sentences are closely related, we can use a semicolon to join them together.

Dan locked himself in the bathroom; Tamara realised she’d have to face the burglars alone.

Insert a coordinating conjunction and a comma.

Useful acronym to remember CCs is FANBOYS; For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet and So.

Dan locked himself in the bathroom, and Tamara realised she’d have to face the burglars alone.

Turn one of your main clauses into a subordinate clause.

Subordinate clauses are preceded by subordinating conjunctions such as since, because, while and although.

If you start with the subordinate clause you will need a comma.

Because Dan locked himself in the bathroom, Tamara realised she’d have to face the burglars alone.

Or

Start with the main clause and you can leave your comma out.

Tamara realised she’d have to face the burglars alone because Dan locked himself in the bathroom.

So now your shiny toolkit is opened and ready to go, there are some spliced commas that need fixing on this page. 

Perhaps you, like author Cormac McCarthy, eschew all those pesky marks and think that any punctuation apart from full stops looks messy on a page? I look forward to hearing about your experiences with the spliced comma, or indeed any other amusing, incorrectly-punctuated sentences.

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