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Comma Splices

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Teacher/Instructor Eva Holtz
Eva Holtz

Harvard University
Perfect scores on the SAT and 4 SATIIs

Eva is a certified admissions counselor and the founder of PrepPoint, a premier test prep company in the San Francisco Bay Area.

So I know you must be as excited as I am because it is time to talk about comma splices. Let's start with the definition a comma splice is just when you have a sentence and another sentence each of which could stand its own connected with a comma in the middle and those are not grammatically correct. So if you see a comma splice not going to be a right answer and they most likely pop up on the improving sentences questions. Now let's look at few comma splices first example 'Barrack Obama was a Junior United States Senator from 2005 to 2008' and then there is our comma and we have another sentence that could stand on it's own 'in 2009 he become the 44th President of the United States.' So again this a comma splice because there is a sentence before the comma there is the comma and the sentence after not grammatically correct. One more example here, 'The pastime that Americans call soccer is a sport played between two teams of 11 players' could you see how that could stand on its own? And then a comma and another sentence that could stand on its own 'it is called football in most other countries.' Okay one more example, 'The French city of Lyon and its surrounding towns make up the second largest metropolitan area in France' there a sentence there is our comma in orange and another sentence 'Paris boasts the largest metropolitan area.' So now that you understand what comma splices are let's see how you can go about fixing them.
So there are three ways we can fix the comma splice problem; first of all we can take that comma and turn it into a period, second we can take the comma and turn it into a semicolon and third we can insert a conjunction. Now this last one is a little complicated so let's take some time to really elaborate on that here. First of all there are two different classes of conjunctions, the good news is you don't need to know what they're called but we've labelled them just so you can absorb the big picture. So first of all we have coordinating conjunctions and you can remember them because they spell FANBOYS right down the side here. Now if you want to use a coordinating conjunction to solve a problem with comma splices all you have to do is put the coordinating conjunction between the two sentences we'll see an example in a second. The other option is to use this other kind of conjunction that's the subordinating conjunction and you can actually solve the problem with comma splices by putting that kind of anywhere. You can put it at the beginning of the first sentence or you can put it in between the two sentences just like the other kind of conjunction.
So let's see what that looks like in action. First of all we have a sentence with a comma splice, 'I like coffee comma she prefers tea that's sentence I like coffee, comma, she prefers tea' another sentence. So it does have to be fixed and let's look at the two methods. First of all we could use a coordinating conjunction those are the FANBOYS conjunctions and we chose to use the B from FANBOYS, so we have 'I like coffee but she prefers tea' problem solved or we can use the subordinating conjunctions and they're actually two examples here because as you may recall subordinating conjunctions can fix comma splices in two ways by being placed at the beginning of a sentence or between the two sentences. So here is the beginning and here is the middle. Let's just read through see how they sound better already 'whereas I like coffee she prefers tea. I like coffee whereas she prefers tea' those both fix the problem with comma splices.
So now that we've covered the three ways to fix comma splices with periods, with semicolons and with conjunctions let's see them applied to the examples that come up earlier about Barrack Obama, football and France. So we can turn the comma that use to be here into a period, we can turn into a semicolon or we can turn it into a conjunction. This one is a coordinating conjunction let's just go ahead and give a read and I hope you'll see it sounds just fine. 'Barrack Obama was a Junior United States senator from 2005 to 2008 and in 2009 he become the 44th President of the United States.' Sounds good which is good because it's right. Next example method one we could change the comma to a period, method two to semicolon, method three insert a conjunction and just to make sure it sounds good let's have a read through again. 'The pastime that Americans call soccer is a sport played between two teams of 11 players though it is called football in most other countries' sounds good is good. Last example so we can use method one change the comma to a period, method two change the comma to a semicolon or insert a conjunction an this one happens to be a subordinating conjunction. 'Quick read through the French city of Lyon and it's surrounding towns make up the second largest metropolitan area in France while Paris boasts the largest metropolitan area,' also good.
So now that you've seen then in action we're ready to look at some SAT problems. So here is an SAT problem you might see in the improving sentences portion of the test. Let's first start by reading the original sentence up top 'The Eagle Scout Leadership Service Project must benefit an organization other than the Boy Scouts of America, it cannot be performed for an individual or a business, cannot be solely a fund-raising project, and cannot be commercial effort.' So I hope you noticed that this is a comma splice here's why this comma right here separates two sentences that could stand on their own let's check those out the one before 'The Eagle Scout Leadership Service project must benefit an organization other than Boy Scouts of America.' Yap that's a sentence same deal over here 'It cannot be performed for an individual or a business, cannot be solely a find-raiser project and cannot be a commercial effort.' So that's a comma splice and that's a no go.
So what's nice about having noticed that is we can immediately eliminate option A option A in this question type is always a repeat. So that's out. We can also quickly scan for any other comma splices these look suspicious let's have a quick read through and see if this is a stand alone sentence and this a stand alone sentence 'cause if it is we'll have sentence comma sentence another comma splice and another wrong answer. 'It cannot be performed for an individual or a business, be solely a fund-raising project, or cannot be a commercial effort' well that actually has two things wrong with it, it's a comma splice and it sounds awful. It's actually lacking something called parallelism which there is an episode on if you're interested. D 'It cannot be performed for an individual or a business, nor be solely a fund-raising project, nor cannot be commercial effort' same deal sounds bad, is a comma splice and lacks parallelism, that's a triple whammy and it is out.
So we have two left and these look promising because they did what we like to do in order to solve comma splices they inserted the conjunctions we have 'so' which is the S from FANBOYS and then down here we have 'but' that's the B from FANBOYS. So we have two good contenders and we have to choose between them now. Let's read through and see if one of them pops out as sounding better here 'So it cannot be performed for an individual or a business, cannot be solely a fund-raising project, and cannot be a commercial effort' that sounds kind of okay. Let's see about this one 'But it cannot be performed for an individual or a business, cannot be solely a fund-raising project, and cannot be a commercial effort.' Now those sound quite similar and the only word that's different is the 'so' versus the 'but'. So here we have to think about logic does it make sense to say 'The project cannot be for the Boy Scouts of America so it can be for these other organizations' or does it make more sense to say 'The project can't be for the Boy Scouts of America but it can't be for these organizations' either and the answer is E sounds better logically that's an example of logical coordination by the way which there is an episode on. So E is our right answer.
Alright so it's time for the bottom line on comma splices first of all they're simply sentence comma sentence, a sentence that could stand on it's own a comma and another sentence that could stand on it's own. Of course comma splices are not allowed and if you see them in an answer choice you know that answer choice is wrong. You can fix them with the three methods first of all change the comma to a period, second of all change the same comma to a semicolon and third of all insert a conjunction either between the two sentences if it's either a coordinating conjunction FANBOYS or a subordinating or you could also insert it in front of the first sentence for the subordinating conjunction and that my friends is comma splices.