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Free Writing Tips

The Co-op is pleased to present free writing tips from Julie Bogart, the creator of the popular Brave Writer writing curriculum.

Comma Splices

Ah the comma splice—that illegally created two-sentence-in-one monster that appears in writing everywhere, including mine. Commas are meant to create a pause in the sentence—a place to breathe, or exhale, or shift gears. Commas also serve a grammatical role—separating items in a list so that you can see easily each item, or so that a clause gets its own “linguistic space” on the page in the sentence.

Commas also go with conjunctions. Comma splices skip the “but” or “and” or “yet.”

A comma splice means that you are so busy thinking your thoughts, you don’t really feel like you are slowing down to the point of a period between them. Yet that is what ought to be there, replacing that comma—a period, full stop, end mark.

The alternative to two sentences, though, is the punctuation mark that makes you feel like a beast! It’s the semicolon. The semicolon (;) is used to legally join two sentences in holy matrimony. These sentences will forever remain joined until death (or shredder) do them part.

Here’s an example of a comma splice:

I explained to her that the ice cream on the counter would melt if she left it out after dinner, I didn’t yell, but she got angry with me anyway.

Notice how these two illegally joined sentences are related to each other—the “not yelling” is all about the “explaining” in the first part of the sentence. That’s why the writer doesn’t always notice that a period goes between them. The writer is feeling the intrinsic connection between the two ideas and feels like it would be an injustice to separate them with a period, as though a new thought is occurring.

Yet it is an entirely new thought. Both of these sentences are complete thoughts. The correct punctuation is:

I explained to her that the ice cream on the counter would melt if she left it out after dinner. I didn’t yell, but she got angry with me anyway.

The semicolon is a better choice when the ideas are even more connected.

She couldn’t get the iPhone to reboot; she had tried four different methods and they all failed.

In this case, the semicolon is better than a period because the information following the initial independent clause (sentence) is directly related to it—it further explains it.

A comma would be the wrong choice to separate these clauses, though, because each one has the power/capacity to stand on its own two feet.

So there you have it! Check your work (first) for comma splices and get a feel for how to eliminate them. Then share your wisdom with your kids.
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