Cool off your comma splices with FANBOYS and semicolons

Don’t be fooled: a comma splice ain’t feelin’ nice like sugar and spice. It’s an ugly, common sentence combination mistake, but it’s also an easy fix with a little help from coordinating conjunctions and the semicolon.

A comma splice is a type of run-on sentence that joins two independent clauses (in other words, two separate sentences) using only a comma. In the examples below, I have used parentheses to indicate the two separate sentences within the comma splices.

Examples of comma splices:
1. Mr. Button’s eyes followed her pointing finger, this is what he saw.
(Mr. Button’s eyes followed her pointing finger), (this is what he saw).
2. An old man about seventy years of age sat in one of the cribs, his sparse hair was almost white.
(An old man about seventy years of age sat in one of the cribs), (his sparse hair was almost white).

Both of these sentences are comma splices and are grammatically incorrect, the reason being that the comma is a pretty weak punctuation mark. By itself, it is not strong enough to hold together two independent clauses (two stand-alone sentences).

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One of the easiest ways to fix a comma splice is to strengthen the weak comma by adding a coordinating conjunction after the comma. This is where our FANBOYS come in! FANBOYS is an acronym for the coordinating conjunctions that can join independent clauses in partnership with a comma:
For
And
Nor
But
Or
Yet
So

Example of fixing a comma splice by adding a coordinating conjunction:
Mr. Button’s eyes followed her pointing finger, and this is what he saw.

Another easy fix for a comma splice is to use a semicolon instead of the comma. Nothing else needs to be added or taken away.

Example of fixing a comma splice by using a semicolon instead:
An old man about seventy years of age sat in one of the cribs; his sparse hair was almost white.

Here are a few practice exercises.* How would you fix these comma splices?
1. Mr. Button’s eyes followed her pointing finger, he saw an old seventy-year-old man sitting in one of the cribs.
2. His sparse hair was almost white, from his chin dripped a long gray beard, which waved absurdly back and forth, fanned by the breeze coming in at the window.
3. The man looked up at Mr. Button with dim, faded eyes, a puzzled question lurked in his eyes.
4. The cool perspiration redoubled on Mr. Button’s forehead, he closed his eyes and then looked again.
5. There was no mistake, he was gazing at a man of threescore and ten, a baby whose feet hung over the sides of the crib.

Sample fixes:
1. Mr. Button’s eyes followed her pointing finger; he saw an old seventy-year-old man sitting in one of the cribs.
2. His sparse hair was almost white, but from his chin dripped a long gray beard, which waved absurdly back and forth, fanned by the breeze coming in at the window.
3. The man looked up at Mr. Button with dim, faded eyes; a puzzled question lurked in his eyes.
4. The cool perspiration redoubled on Mr. Button’s forehead, so he closed his eyes and then looked again.
5. There was no mistake, for he was gazing at a man of threescore and ten, a baby whose feet hung over the sides of the crib.

* These example sentences are variations of text taken from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons user MASA

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