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Comma Trauma

All aboard the train to Commatown! This post highlights some of the most common comma errors.

 All aboard the train to Commatown! 

Comma Splices

I'm not sure about you folks, but when I think of the word “splice,” I think of some strange genetic experiment, like in that movie with Adrian Brody and that lady from “Go.” While a comma splice isn't quite that disturbing to most people, it is an incorrect construction and, as such, is very disturbing to the TB editors. 

A comma splice occurs when you splice two independent clauses together using a comma alone: 

“I like wearing this helmet, it totally accents my pumps.”

An independent clause is a clause that could stand alone as its own grammatically correct sentence. “I like wearing this helmet” and “It totally accents my pumps” are both independent clauses because each could function as a grammatically correct, self-contained sentence with both subject and verb. As a result, they cannot be joined by a comma alone. 

Thematically and stylistically, however, these ideas complement each other, and your reader should experience them together. To achieve the desired fluidity while maintaining your grammatical fabulousness, you can do one of three things: 

1)Add a coordinating conjunction after the comma. There are seven—and only seven—coordinating conjunctions: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so. They spell out FANBOYS. Using one of these words logically would exorcise the stink of the comma splice out of our sexy sample:

“I like wearing this helmet, and it totally accents my pumps.” 
“I like wearing this helmet, for it totally accents my pumps.” 

2)Use alternate punctuation. If you aren't feeling the FANBOYS, you can use a semicolon or a colon in place of the comma. If you choose this option, however, be very careful. Do not combine options 1 and 2, or a grammar goblin will sneak into your room at night and eat your soul. Use either one or the other.

“I like wearing this helmet; it totally accents my pumps.”
“I like wearing this helmet: It totally accents my pumps.” 

You are likely saying, “Why is 'It' capitalized? That isn't right! What is this blog coming to? Where's Keira?!” Please allow me to assure you both that the capitalization is correct, and Keira is alive and well. In AP style, when a second independent clause follows a colon, its first word must be capitalized, so please keep this in mind. 

3)Reword to remove punctuation. You could just as effectively express this idea with no punctuation at all.

“I like wearing this helmet because it accents my pumps.” 
“I like wearing this helmet when it accents my pumps.” 

With the help of every author, we can vanquish the scourge of the comma splice in our lifetime, making for some very happy clients and editors. 

Essential and non-essential clauses

These are clauses that provide additional information to the readers. They are sometimes called restrictive and non-restrictive clauses. As the name denotes, an essential clause is essential to the meaning of the sentence; it cannot be removed without changing the sentence's meaning. A non-essential clause is, then, a clause that does not provide information that changes the sentence if removed. The most important thing to remember here is that non-essential clauses require commas, and essential clauses do not. At times, it can be crucial to make the distinction between essential and non-essential clauses: 

“Children, who eat pizza and watch TV, are fat.” 
“Children who eat pizza and watch TV are fat.” 

Making the pizza and TV clause non-essential in the first sentence implies that all children eat pizza and watch TV and are fat. Making the same clause essential in the second sentence creates a distinction between the group of children who eat pizza and lounge and all the other children who presumably don't like pizza and engage in other forms of entertainment. 

“Carlton Counard, my awesome high school English teacher, owns the restaurant.”

It is not essential for the readers to know that Counard was my high school English teacher; it's just a delicious little nugget of Melissa trivia. The focus of that sentence is that Counard is the owner of the restaurant, which makes the bit about him being my teacher superfluous—thus non-essential—despite it being fascinating. Also, notice the commas.

“Carlton Counard owns the restaurant that Reavers attacked last year.”

Here, “that Reavers attacked last year” is an essential clause because there are many restaurants in my sleepy little burg, but only one was set upon by fictitious space cannibals in the past 12 months.

You may be saying “Wait one second, Little Miss Editor Pants. If you removed both clauses, you would be left with the same sentence: 'Carlton Counard owns the restaurant.' Aside from no one caring about your stupid teacher and 'Firefly' being awesome, how do you know that one clause is essential and one isn't?” You know because of “that.” “That” is almost always indicative of an essential clause in AP style. For a non-essential clause, use “which.”

“The shirt that I'm wearing is yellow.” 
“The shirt, which I'm wearing, is yellow.” 

The the use of “that” over “which” in the first sentence shows your readers that me wearing the shirt currently is important, while in the second sentence, the same information is extraneous. This essential/non-essential clauses business is a bit nebulous, so it's up to you, the author, to decide what information is essential and what isn't. Just be sure that the grammatical structure that you use reflects your decision. 

I hope, my pretties, that you have found this information useful. I know commas are a sore spot for many, but they don't have to be. Whenever you receive feedback from us on your articles and you don't understand why what you've done is incorrect, email us. We're happy to answer questions, as in an email we can provide a more thorough explanation than we can in comments. Cheers!

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334041 17. October 2013 - 15:54

Thanks for the article, I will definately take your advice. I have a couple of questiions and can't seem to find answers online.

1) I haven't found any instructions about the technical aspects of an article. For instance; do I need to include my name in a submitted article? The date, author ID, any information like that required?

2) I applied to a couple of teams and the box that you paste text into removes the formatting. Should I use HTML tags on every article to keep formatting?

3) If I just write the article only, with no other information, I assume people will know how to contact me about myapplications. Is that correct?

I really appreciate your time helping me with these questions. I searched for quite a while and found tons of information but not specific to my questions.



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