Tag Archives: commas

How to Fix Comma Splices

You know when your friend is typing you a Facebook message and they run all their sentences together, you can kind of figure out what they’re saying, but it sounds like they’re talking really fast, you’re just like dude BREATHE!

I hate to break it to you, but your friend is suffering from a case of the comma splices.

What’s a comma splice? you ask. How can I save my friend from a slow, painful grammatical death and imminent doom?

A comma splice is when you combine two complete sentences with a comma. Here are a few examples:

I love comma splices, aren’t they so fun?

I ran into my friend in the Sny-Phi caf, we hung out for three hours and I got absolutely no homework done.

My best friend’s name is Sarah, she’s my cousin.

Well, you say, those sentences make perfect sense to me, so what’s the problem? The problem is that commas aren’t meant to join complete sentences. They have a million other ways they can be used, but joining full sentences isn’t one of them.

Here are some alternatives that won’t cause comma splices.

1. Use a period instead

Take this sentence again:

I love comma splices, aren’t they so fun?

The chunks on each side of the comma are complete sentences on their own, so unless you’re joining them with a word like and, but, or or, they have to end with terminal punctuation (a period, a question mark, or an exclamation point). So we can just replace that comma with a period:

I love comma splices. Aren’t they so fun?

Boom, done, easy!

2. Use a semicolon instead

Take a look at this sentence again:

I ran into my friend in the Sny-Phi caf, we hung out for three hours and I got absolutely no homework done.

Again, both sides of the comma are complete sentences. We could replace that comma with a period again and it would totally work. But sometimes it’s more fun to use a semicolon.

A semicolon joins two complete sentences that are related idea-wise. So in this sentence, hanging out for three hours and getting no homework done occur as a result of running into your friend in the caf. It’s a cause-effect relationship:

I ran into my friend in the Sny-Phi caf; we hung out for three hours and I got absolutely no homework done.

3. Add a coordinating conjunction

Coordinating conjunctions are words like and, but, and or. They can join together two complete sentences, and you add them after the comma. So this sentence:

My best friend’s name is Sarah, she’s my cousin.

becomes this:

My best friend’s name is Sarah, and she’s my cousin.

So, now you know how to save your friend from the wrath of the angry comma-splice monsters.

Check out the following resources for more info about fixing comma splices:

Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Comma Splices

Purdue Owl’s tips on comma splices

Capital Community College’s guide to comma splices and run-on sentences

Dashes, and Commas, and Parenthesis, Oh My!

still image from the original Wizard of Oz, from left, The Tin Man, Dorothy, and Scarecrow

Are you afraid of dashes, commas and parenthesis? Well, you don’t need to be afraid any longer.  I won’t go through all the uses for each symbol, but we will look at using them to set off information within a sentence. Many times they are used in similar ways, but they indicate stronger or weaker emphasis.  There are always rules, and of course times when we break the rules, but here are some very generalized guidelines.

You can think of the dash like the roar of a lion, it shows that something has a high level of contrast and the dash is used to bring attention to the words set apart by the dashes.  It can show a level of surprise or strong emphasis. Such as, “The young boy—with arms as thin as sticks –hoisted the massive weight above his head.” The contrast of the thin arms shows the surprise in being able to lift the heavy weight.

The commas are a little subtler, you can think of them like a tiger weaving through the underbrush of the jungle. They can be very powerful, but they pause and wait, ready to pounce with more information.  Something like, “The young boy, who had been secretly training at the gym for months, hoisted the massive weight above his head.”  Here the information within the commas offers more information about the young boy and why he could lift the weights.

Parenthesis can also be powerful, but they are more like the bear walking peacefully through the forest.  They can pack powerful information, but generally are quieter, while still offering more information. We could say, “The young boy (stronger than he looked) hoisted the massive weight above his head”

A few of the “rule breakers”-

If we are already using parenthesis for references in a sentence and the information you want to set off within a sentence would be normally set off with parenthesis, then you might want to consider using commas or the dash so your reader won’t be confused.

If you are already using a lot of commas in a sentence, you might want to consider using the dash or parenthesis instead of more commas.

Well, I hope this helps give a little insight on when to use the lions, tigers and bears of the punctuation world.  Remember, we would love to help talk about those scary punctuation marks with you at the Writing Center!  Make an appointment today–

If you would like to read more about this topic, check out Grammar Girl’s entry at —Grammar Girl