Tag Archive - commas

Any Way You Splice It

You might know it as a run-on sentence, a fused sentence, or a comma splice. When two independent clauses—sentences that can stand on their own—are joined by only a comma, grammarians get excited.

The good news is there are four easy fixes for sentences like this one:

  • Buoyed by his boss’s glowing endorsement, Jack left early, he planned to celebrate with a trip.

Either make two separate sentences:

  • Buoyed by his boss’s glowing endorsement, Jack left early. He planned to celebrate with a trip.

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I Wonder, Where Is That Comma?

This is a comma rule that I wasn’t even sure of myself and had to look up! I’ve seen it handled many different ways in manuscripts, but here’s what Chicago Manual of Style says: Questions are sometimes included within another sentence either directly or indirectly—not as a quotation but as part of the sentence as a whole. A direct question (unless it comes at the beginning of a sentence) is usually introduced by a comma. A direct question may take an initial capital letter if it is relatively long or has internal punctuation.

  •  Suddenly he asked himself, where am I headed?
  • The question on everyone’s mind was, how are we going to tell her?
  • Legislators had to be asking themselves, Can the fund be used for the current emergency, or must it remain dedicated to its original purpose?

If the result seems awkward, rephrase as an indirect question. An indirect question does not require a question mark, nor does it need to be set off with a comma. Indirect questions are never capitalized (except at the beginning of a sentence). Here are ways to rephrase:

  • Suddenly he asked himself where he was headed.
  • The question of how to tell her was on everyone’s mind.
  • Ursula wondered why her watch had stopped ticking.
  • Where to find a reliable clock is the question of the hour.

And don’t put a question mark at the end of these sentences just because the word question is in there or a question is implied. I’m amazed at how many sentences I come across with question marks at the end and the sentence is not a question!

Using Commas, Since They’re Needed

Meaning is everything, and that little comma can really make a big difference in your meaning. I especially pay attention to phrases that have because and since in them. See if you can tell the difference in meaning with each pair of sentences:

  • I didn’t go to the store because you were angry.
  • I didn’t go to the store, because you were angry.

In the first instance, my going to the store had nothing to do with your anger, and that’s what I’m telling you. But with the comma, the sentence means I didn’t go to the store for the reason that you were angry. Your anger kept me from going to the store, which is the opposite of the first sentence’s meaning.

  • I played football since I was nine.
  • I played football, since I was nine.

The word since has some different meanings, so by using the comma, you’re being clear. In the first sentence, I started playing football at age nine. The second sentence gives the reason I played football—because I was nine, implying you were at a qualifiable age. So, to quote my eighth-grade English teacher, Mr. Holtby: “Say what you mean. Don’t say what you don’t mean.”

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