Writing tip of the week

by Harriet Castor

Has your tutor mentioned the ‘comma splice’ as something you should avoid? A comma splice happens when two whole sentences are joined together by a comma. This isn’t correct, because a comma isn’t strong enough to hold whole sentences together. Have a look at this example of a comma splice from the Bristol Uni website’s grammar pages:

I always find writing essays difficult, I usually leave them to the last minute.

If you write a sentence like this, and want to check whether or not it’s correct, here’s the way to do it:

  • Cover up everything AFTER the comma with your hand. Just read the first part. Is it a whole sentence? Does it make sense on its own?
  • Now cover up everything BEFORE the comma with your hand. Just read the second part. Is this a whole sentence? Does it make sense on its own?

If the answer in both cases is YES, then you cannot join the two parts together with a comma. Instead you can do one of the following things:

  • Use a full stop.

I always find writing essays difficult. I usually leave them to the last minute.

  • Use a joining word, such as ‘and’, ‘but’, ‘so’, etc.

I always find writing essays difficult, so I usually leave them to the last minute.

  • Use a semi-colon. Semi-colons can be used to join two whole sentences together, as long as the two sentences are closely related in meaning.

I always find writing essays difficult; I usually leave them to the last minute.

For more examples, and some useful exercises, see the Bristol Uni website’s grammar pages here:

http://www.bristol.ac.uk/arts/exercises/grammar/grammar_tutorial/page_41.htm

For a confidential one-to-one session with me to work on your writing skills, email Harriet.Castor@uwe.ac.uk.

I’m at Frenchay on Wednesdays and St Matthias on Thursdays.

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