How to Comma Correctly—Comma Splices and Compound Predicates Clarified

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Commas, commas, commas—who cares about commas? You should. They enable you to help your readers understand your meaning. They give you control over where your readers pause and divide sentences. And they can make the difference between an unclear sentence and a clear one. But commas have so many different uses that it’s easy to become confused about where to place them. Here, I’ll address the comma splice and compound predicate conundrums.

The Comma SpliceTo comma, or not to comma . . . that is the question.

Consider the following: “Revising your writing is crucial, thorough editing makes for a pleasant read.” This is a comma splice, which is something you usually want to avoid in your writing. Two complete sentences have been joined, or “spliced,” together with a comma. (Note, though, that a comma splice isn’t always wrong. It’s fine to use commas to “splice” together sentences if your sentences are short and parallel each other. “I wrote, I revised, I published.”)

So how can you deal with problematic comma splices?

One option is to substitute a period for the comma, transforming the statement into the two complete sentences already there. “Revising your writing is crucial. Thorough editing makes for a pleasant read.” If your two sentences are closely related, you could use a semicolon instead.

Alternatively, you could rework one of the independent clauses into a dependent clause to avoid a comma splice. “Because thorough editing makes for a pleasant read, revising your writing is crucial.”

Another solution is to include a suitable conjunction after the comma, such as “and,” “but,” “or,” “yet,” “since,” or “so.” “Revising your writing is crucial, and thorough editing makes for a pleasant read.” A comma isn’t necessary if you have a conjunction joining two independent clauses that are short and closely related. “Jane writes and John critiques.”

The Compound Predicate

If you opt to solve your comma issues by inserting a conjunction, check that you continue to have complete sentences on each side of the comma or you may have a compound predicate problem on your hands. “Jane writes for at least three hours a day, and she avoids revising for as long as she can,” not “Jane writes for at least three hours a day, and avoids revising for as long as she can.” The latter example has a compound predicate, with the verbs “writes” and “avoids” each referring to the subject “Jane.”

So, how do you correct a compound predicate problem?

It’s simple. When there is no subject in the second part of the sentence, no comma is needed before the conjunction. “Jane writes for at least three hours a day and avoids revising for as long as she can.” However, some style manuals recommend including a comma in sentences like this (especially when the conjunction”but” is used) if it is required for clarity. “Jane received a call from the agent who agreed to represent her, and passed out.” Without the comma, readers don’t know who passed out, Jane or the agent.

What kind of comma trauma do you suffer from? Please leave a comment!

Five Steps to Solve Your Possessive Problems

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Mine! Mine! Mine!“Mine! Mine! Mine!” Children master the concept of possession early on (as anyone who’s spent time around a toddler can attest!), but the concept of punctuating possessives doesn’t always come as easily. Here are five points to consider when facing possessive predicaments.

  1. Before you go any further, make sure that you have a possessive noun and not just a plural one. If ownership is involved, then you have a possessive situation. But if you simply have more than one of something, then you have a plural situation. For example, “Paul’s punctuation is perfect in all situations.”
  2. When you have a singular noun, add ’s to form the possessive in most cases. For example, “Suzy’s spelling is superb, and Charles’s copy is colorful.” Note that an ’s is still added when the singular noun ends in s, x, or z. Not all style guides agree on this though, with some drawing a distinction based upon whether the s is silent or pronounced in possessive situations. And if you think that seems too simple, you’re right—there are a couple of exceptions to complicate matters. Exception 1: Traditionally, certain historical and biblical names ending in s only take an apostrophe in the possessive form, such as Achilles’ heel or Jesus’ followers. But some style guides now recommend using an ’s to form these possessives. Exception 2: Certain singular nouns used with for . . . sake simply require an apostrophe to form the possessive, though not all instances work this way. For example, you would write for righteousness’ sake or for goodness’ sake, but you would also write for heaven’s sake. But, once again, not all style guides agree, so you should refer to a manual suitable for your topic.Make sure you punctuate possesives correctly.
  3. For plural nouns ending in s, simply place an apostrophe at the end to make them possessive. For example, “Pupils’ penmanship will improve with practice.”
  4. With plural nouns that don’t already end in s, add ’s to create the possessive. For example, “Children’s books are valuable teaching instruments.”
  5. One last thing—don’t think that you must insert an apostrophe somewhere in a word to show possession. Pronouns like his, her, my, or your show possession without an apostrophe. And the same is true for the pronouns its and whose. For example, “I read your essay, but whose idea was it to remove its punctuation?” It’s and who’s are contractions for it is or it has and who is or who has.

Do you have any helpful hints for dealing with possessives? Please leave a comment!