The FANBOYS Comma Rule
When I say “FANBOYS,” I don’t mean the ones who geek out about cult TV shows; I mean the acronym.
FANBOYS is how you remember the coordinating conjunctions you’ll have to watch for when editing comma usage:
Conjunction Junction, What’s Your FUNction?
When these conjunctions are used to combine complete sentences, they should always follow a comma.
There are instances in which they don’t get a comma, though. Namely, when they are simply “hooking up” phrases that don’t qualify as complete or independent with both subject and verb.
So What’s a Comma Splice?
The term “comma splice” refers to the error in which a comma alone separates two complete or independent clauses or phrases. Notice there’s no conjunction:
The conjunction is necessary for the comma to be used. Therefore, in the above example, the comma is incorrectly “splicing” the sentence.
Sometimes, I will call the error in which a comma is incorrectly used with a conjunction when the phrases are dependent or incomplete (see below), but this is not a true comma splice. I just don’t know what to call it.
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Since “paper when I write” cannot stand alone, the conjunction does not need its helper comma.
How to Fix Comma Splices
If you look at the above errors, you’ll notice that the key is in identifying complete sentences and using FANBOYS correctly. To fix the above errors, either add the right conjunction in the right place
or use a semicolon instead.
Be sure to remove commas with conjunctions that are not joining complete phrases.
Commonly Confused Commas
Because they are not FANBOYS coordinating conjunctions, the following words do not pair with commas:
These often imply causation, which would be subordinate or dependent on the preceding phrase despite its ability to stand alone. View a full list of subordinating conjunctions here.
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