At face value, comma splices are simple: a comma alone cannot separate two independent clauses (an independent clause can stand alone as a complete sentence—it can be, as its name suggests, independent).
One of the reasons why understanding comma splices is such a big deal on the SAT and ACT is that understanding a comma splice involves understanding what makes up a complete sentence. You can't teach comma splices without also discussing independent clauses. It's like talking about peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and forgetting either peanut butter or jelly. "So, I want to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I have peanut butter, I have bread. What's the other ingredient I need?"
Haha, very funny, right?
In fact, that was SUCH A FUNNY AND PREPOSTEROUS IDEA, I'm going to write it again:
"So, I want to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I have peanut butter, I have bread. What's the other ingredient I need?"
...Okay, I give. The reason that I wrote the line again wasn't because I felt so enthused at my comic genius, it was because within these sentences is a comma splice.
Whoops! There I go again. That last sentence also contained a comma splice.
Let's deal with the bolded text for now. Can you spot the comma splice?
The comma splice lands between the independent clauses "I have peanut butter" and "I have bread." These are two very simple independent clauses.
See how much ground we just covered? Let's review:
Once you understand these three rules, particularly rules 1 and 2, the rule for comma splices becomes simple:
A comma alone cannot separate two independent clauses.
So, when faced with a punctuation question in the English ACT or Writing SAT sections or when deciding how to punctuate your own writing, the first thing you ask is if the information to the left and to the right of the punctuation can stand alone as complete sentences. If both can, then you know that a comma alone is not sufficient punctuation to separate the two clauses.
What can separate two independent clauses? You have several options:
*Coordinating conjunctions can be remembered according to the acronym "FANBOYS": For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So.
You can see why comma splices are such rich fodder for test questions. In reviewing comma splices, you need to know:
Furthermore, to address comma splices, you need to read the entire sentence—not just the underlined portion—to understand the context of the punctuation and apply your understanding of the above four points. And, quite likely, you have to use logical reasoning to establish what kind of coordinating conjunction makes sense in the context ("and" has a different denotation than "but").
One important point here is that there's not just one way to fix a comma splice. Your job isn't to identify the only possible correction. Rather, it's to identify the only answer choice provided that appropriately separates two independent clauses and that fits into the logic of the passage. The test will offer only one correct answer.
Also, note that not all nouns are subjects and not all verbs are the main predicate of a sentence.
Before I leave you, let's quickly look at the other sentence with a comma splice.
"The reason that I wrote the line again wasn't because I felt so enthused at my comic genius, it was because it contained a comma splice."
"The reason that I wrote the line again wasn't because I felt so enthused at my comic genius"
"The reason" (or, more fully, "The reason that I wrote the line again")
"...wasn't because I felt so enthused at my comic genius"
Yep. Makes sense.
This one totally stands alone as a complete sentence.
"...it was because within these sentences is a comma splice."
"...was because within these sentences is a comma splice."
Two independent clauses. Only a comma separating them. No bueno.
Take a paper you've written for school (or get creative and write something totally new), and add in some comma splices. Then, give the paper to a friend or family member and see how they do at finding the comma splices. Even better, have a friend do the same for you so that you can both perform the exercise. Alternatively, add in the comma splices to your paper, wait a few days, and then check your own paper. Trust me, the exercise will still work. You can also be on the lookout when writing and receiving e-mails, blog posts (ehem) and other informal writing for inadvertent comma splices.
For further explanation, you can read more about comma splices online or in a prep book. When you do a practice section, be aware of this kind of problem because it will almost definitely come up... maybe more than once.
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