We writing and grammar geeks can hardly contain ourselves as two fabulously nerdy events collide. Today, National Grammar Day meets Words Matter Week.
To celebrate this momentous occasion, I’d like to bring you a fun little way to teach your students to find and fix comma splices.
I know. Your enthusiasm—like mine—knows no bounds.
The Problem with Comma Splices
When a comma joins two independent clauses or sentences, it’s called a comma splice.
Example 1: J.R.R. Tolkien wrote The Hobbit, he also wrote The Lord of the Rings.
Example 2: The bridge collapsed into the river, fortunately no one was injured.
Example 3: Maya arrived late, her car wouldn’t start.
These three examples demonstrate the typical comma splice. Since it’s one of the most common grammar errors, I encourage you to devote time to helping your students identify and learn to fix comma splices in their own writing.
Suzanne Cherry, director of the Swamp Fox Writing Project (South Carolina), finds that relating the concepts of punctuation and grammar to real-world experiences—in this example, through an intriguing demonstration involving electrical tape—helps students recognize and correct their errors successfully.
Cherry uses a unique object lesson to explain the comma splice error to her students. Showing the class two pieces of wire, each with the last inch exposed, she says: “We need to join these pieces of wire together right now if we are to be able to watch our favorite TV show. What can we do? We could use some tape, but that would probably be a mistake as the puppy could easily eat through the connection. By splicing the wires in this way, we are creating a fire hazard.”
Turning Wires into Sentences
The students usually come up with a better alternative: to use one of those electrical connectors that looks like the cap of a pen.
“Now,” Cherry suggests, “let’s turn those wires into sentences.”
She reminds her students that if they just splice them together with a comma—the equivalent of a piece of tape—it creates a weak connection, or a comma splice error.
The answer is to use the grammatical equivalent of the electrical connector: either a conjunction (and, but, or) or a semicolon. Either option “shows the relationship between the two sentences in a way that the comma—a device for taping clauses together in a slapdash manner—does not.”
[In addition to Cherry’s suggestions, I would add that a period also makes an effective repair for a comma splice, as it separates the two independent clauses into distinct sentences.]
Here, our three example comma splices have been repaired:
Example 1: J.R.R. Tolkien wrote The Hobbit. He also wrote The Lord of the Rings. (period)
Example 2: The bridge collapsed into the river, but fortunately no one was injured. (conjunction)
Example 3: Maya arrived late; her car wouldn’t start. (semicolon)
“I’ve been teaching writing for many years,” Cherry says. “And I now realize the more able we are to relate the concepts of writing to ‘real world’ experience, the more successful we will be.”
Read more: Keeping the Comma Splice Queen Happy