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Comma Splices and Other Errors: When NOT to Use Commas:

By Keren Perles

Throughout this series, you have learned the various scenarios that require a comma. At the same time, the most glaring mistake is often not the omission of a comma, but the inclusion of one when it is not needed. This article will explain the most common scenarios where a comma should NOT be used.

Comma Splices

A comma is not a semicolon. When combining two independent clauses (or groups of words that can stand alone as sentences), do not just glue them together with a comma. Doing so would create a comma splice. The following are two examples of comma splices:

  • Working with my hands is not just a hobby, it’s a way of living. (incorrect)
  • Charlie believes in the overriding importance of honesty, he never stretches the truth, no matter what is at stake. (incorrect)

There are four main methods of fixing comma splices:

1. Replacing the comma with a semicolon

  • Working with my hands is not just a hobby; it’s a way of living.

2. Dividing the sentence into two smaller sentences

  • Working with my hands is not just a hobby. It’s a way of living.

3. Adding a coordinating conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, or so) after the comma

  • Charlie believes in the overriding importance of honesty, so he never stretches the truth, no matter what is at stake.

4. Adding a subordinating conjunction to the first clause

  • Because Charlie believes in the overriding importance of honesty, he never stretches the truth, no matter what is at stake.

Between Subject and Predicate

Never put a comma between the subject and the predicate of a sentence. Be especially careful about this rule when the subject is very long. For example: Understanding the difference between how various types of people choose their jobs, can be a complex process that requires intense investigation. This comma is unnecessary and interrupts the flow of the sentence.

After Coordinating Conjunctions

A comma should never go after a coordinating conjunction. Many people feel compelled to add a comma after the word but rather than before it, but this is grammatically incorrect. For example:

  • I truly wanted to accompany her but, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to make it. (incorrect)
  • I truly wanted to accompany her, but I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to make it. (correct)

Before or After a Series

Although a previous article discussed the use of a comma between items in a series, this comma should not be misused. A comma should not usually come before the first item in a series or after the last item in a series. For example:

  • I made sure to pack, three bottles of water, a few snacks, and several rolls of toilet paper. (incorrect)
  • Make sure to turn off all the lights, lock the door, and set the alarm, before you leave the house. (incorrect)