If I were being honest with you, I would have to tell you that when I was in middle school I was tutored for grammatical errors. Now, we both know that grammar encompasses so much more than punctuation, but at the time that was what I needed help with. I can’t say that I actually learned anything from those sessions with my tutor. I remember feeling really frustrated and had pretty much given up. I was, oddly enough, a decent writer but I lacked basic punctuation to give me the A grading that I had so desperately wanted.  Many years went by (I was 12 when I was tutored and I’ll be 24 tomorrow) and all of a sudden when I entered college it was like, BAM! Grammar queen! Rules and strategies that my professors taught resonated in my brain and I was able to take a deep breath and, oh imagine this, relax. It all eventually came together, even if I was a tad bit behind.

There was something, however, that would catch me every time. Actually, as I write this I am trying to make sure that I am not currently making the same mistake that I am going to talk about: commas. Innocent little commas that really pack a punch.  It’s the comma splicing that I struggle with. I suppose I write like I talk, and if you knew me personally, you would realize that I have a lot to say and usually like to say it rather quickly. There is no time for being grammatically correct. Except when that pretty big essay is due. Then there is all the time in the world.

So, let’s say that a college freshman makes an appointment and in the description she says that she wants to work on commas. Before the session begins, I would print off the comma brochure from PSU Berks Writing Center.  That is a good visual aid that will assist us in the process.  Also, this is a good image to show a student who needs more of a visual in comma splicing.

After some casual chit-chat, we get down to the nitty gritty:

 Tutor: I saw that you would like to work with commas today so I took the time to print out a comma brochure that will help us along the way.  Is there something specific having to do with commas that you would like to work on?

Student: My professor sent me here because he said I need help with comma splicing but I have no idea what that is.

Tutor: Oh, no problem! First of all, comma splicing is when you have two ideas that are complete sentences and you are trying to hold them together with a comma.  Like, “Dave took the dog out for a walk, he also listened to music.” Can you see or hear the difference here? The first part is stating that Dave is walking the dog while the second part is saying he listened to music. How would you change this to make it two sentences or one cohesive sentence?

 Student: Hmmm, I guess, “while Dave walked the dog, he also listened to music.”

Tutor: Excellent! Okay, now let’s take a look at your first paragraph and find the areas that you need to re-work so you don’t run into this problem.

The rules of comma splicing are pretty simple:

  • Stop at every comma in your paper, and see if there are two complete sentences on either side of the comma.
    • If this is the case:
      • Separate the ideas and give each idea more emphasis (use a period to separate)
      • Leave them in the same sentence, like above, but change the wording giving more detail and/or use a semicolon to join the two conjunction sentences.