This article is the first in a series about the humble comma, and deals with a situation in which a comma should not be used.
The unwary among us might be tempted to write something like the following.
I know all about punctuation, I use it every time I write something.
He was miles away, nevertheless he drove to the conference centre to present the award.
I own the latest iPhone, I make sure everyone knows it.
This fault is known as a comma splice; two clauses (usually statements) with some connection are separated by a comma. The name “comma splice” refers to the joining together (or splicing) of the two clauses. The clauses either side of the comma could each stand alone as a complete sentence, but something other than a comma is required in order for them to cohabit in a single sentence.
On the punctuation error scale, it’s a relatively minor fault, and can be corrected easily in one of the following ways.
- Split the sentence into two shorter ones.
- Replace the comma with a colon, semi-colon or em dash.
- Insert a coordinating conjunction such as and, but or so.
Using these fixes, the example sentences above could be corrected as follows.
I know all about punctuation. I use it every time I write something.
He was miles away; nevertheless he drove to the conference centre to present the award.
I own the latest iPhone, and I make sure everyone knows it.
There are similar sentence constructs that are not comma splice faults.
Despite being sixty years old, he was keen to pursue training for a new career.
Shockingly, Dave stood up and told the HR representative just what he thought of their assertion that employees are the company’s most valuable asset.
In these examples, the initial word or phrase is introductory, and will not stand on its own as a complete sentence.
The fault is subtle, it’s relatively harmless. Nevertheless it’s a fault. Punctuation pedants will jump on this as surely as a cat will jump on an unwary mouse.
I hope you spotted the need for comma replacement in the first sentence of the previous paragraph, and the need for a comma after “nevertheless” in the second sentence.
Please Help Improve Yonder Pedant’s Ramblings
- Did I miss a typo? (I’ll feel bad when you tell me, but I’d rather you did tell me!)
- Did I write something that makes you want to turn green and burst out of your shirt?
- Do you have any better examples that you would share and allow me to use?
If so, please let me know by leaving a comment.