I am guilty of comma abuse. I remember learning about commas in grade school, but there are several things I have forgotten from all those years ago. To stick with our theme of editing, this post is an effort to stop the abuse of commas!
Understanding what is a dependent and an independent clause is important in saving commas from mistreatment. What is the difference?
Independent clause means the clause can stand alone. It has a verb and subject and is a complete thought.
Example: I like to write. – this example has a subject (I) and a verb (write) and shows a complete thought.
A dependent clause needs another clause to make it work. It depends on another clause to make it a complete thought. It may have a verb and a subject but it still needs a conjunction or preposition to make it a complete thought.
Example: While I was asleep, my dog ate my homework.
While I was asleep is the dependent clause – The dependent clause has a verb (asleep) and a subject (I) it lacks a complete thought. While I was asleep is dependent because it needs more to tell me what the heck happened while I was asleep.
Comma Splice – AKA when to NOT use a comma
A comma splice happens when you connect two independent clauses with a comma instead of with a conjunction or other appropriate punctuation.
WRONG: I like to write, my novel is almost complete.
I like to write is an independent clause. My novel is almost complete is also an independent clause. These two complete thoughts are “spliced together” by the comma. In this case, you would not use a comma but a period to separate the two independent clauses they are two stand-alone sentences complete in subject, verb and complete thought.
CORRECT: I like to write. My novel is almost complete.
When coordinating conjunctions connect two clauses
A conjunction is just what it sounds like, a word that links (joins) together words, phrases, and clauses. Example of conjunctions: for, and, nor, but, or, yet. One way to remember a coordinating conjunction with the acronym (FANBOY).
When a sentence uses a coordinating conjunction put the comma before the conjunction.
WRONG: I like to write and my novel is near completion.
CORRECT: I like to write, and my novel is near completion.
One more note: As with most rules, there are times the rules do not apply. Some writers omit the comma if the two independent clauses are balanced.
Example: Dave can field the ball but he can’t run.
While a comma before the “but” isn’t needed. This is because the two independent clauses are balanced. However, adding a comma would still be correct.
Okay, I these are the two common mistakes I see the most in editing mine and others work. I know grammar can be overwhelming (a bit boring as well), but understanding it makes for better writing. Tomorrow, I will share a few things we should be doing with our commas.