Never let it be said that I don’t have a sense of humor. It might be true, but never say it.
A Funny Sign
While having my morning coffee, I came across a link to funny, and often unfortunate, store signs (which I call sighns). Lo and behold, I found a sign that has a comma error. Go figure.
The text of the sign reads
Watch your parents, these items are sharp!
(safe for work: http://chzoddlyspecific.wordpress.com/page/17/?ref=chz)
This has one comma, and it’s wrong. This faulty sentence joins two independent clauses with only a comma. This is called a comma splice.
An independent clause has a subject and a predicate, and it can serve as a complete sentence. In this sign, the first independent clause is Watch your parents, and the second one is these items are sharp!
You can use a comma to join independent clauses, but only if the comma is preceded by a coordinating conjunction. Coordinating conjunctions are for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so. (The first letters of coordinating conjunctions spell out FANBOYS.) Using a comma-conjunction combination to join independent clauses follows Zen Comma Rule D: Put a comma before a coordinating conjunction that joins two independent clauses.
In this funny sign, better options are to use a semicolon, a colon, or a period with a capital letter, as follows.
- Watch your parents; these items are sharp!
- Watch your parents: these items are sharp!
- Watch your parents. These items are sharp.
You might think that this sign could read Watch your parents, because these items are sharp!, with a comma before because. This, too, would be wrong. Because is not a coordinating conjunction, so Rule D doesn’t apply. In this situation, we follow Zen Comma Rule F: Don’t use a comma before because when joining two independent clauses–unless needed by another rule.
Need help with commas? Get Zen Comma, a guide to the 17 major uses and misuses of commas.
Read more about Zen Comma.