One of the reasons why IELTS writing is so much more difficult than the others parts of the exam is that it includes punctuation. Knowing how to punctuate an essay correctly is something that even most native English speakers cannot do.

[Read all about why IELTS writing is so difficult.]

There are lots of punctuation mistakes that can be made, just as there are lots of mistakes in using tenses or spelling. However, among the most common – and most misunderstood – is an error called the comma splice.

Today, we will look at what it is and how to fix it.

What is a Comma Splice?

A comma splice is when two independent clauses are joined by a comma and nothing else. For example:

  • Leadership skills are really important, people respect those who have lots of leadership qualities.

What is the problem here? Well, we have two main clauses:

  1. Leadership skills are really important
  2. People respect those who have lots of leadership qualities

These are both independent clauses, and that is the problem. Independent clauses can be attached to each other in only three possible ways:

  1. INDEPENDENT CLAUSE + COMMA + COORDINATION CONJUNCTION + INDEPENDENT CLAUSE
    • Leadership skills are really important, so people respect those who have lots of leadership qualities.
  2. INDEPENDENT CLAUSE + SEMI-COLON + INDEPENDENT CLAUSE
    • Leadership skills are really important; people respect those who have lots of leadership qualities.
  3. INDEPENDENT CLAUSE + SEMI-COLON + CONJUNCTIVE ADVERB + COMMA + INDEPENDENT CLAUSE
    • Leadership skills are really important; as such, people respect those who have lots of leadership qualities.

Those three ways of writing a sentence are all perfectly acceptable. However, when two clauses are joined with just a comma, it is considered a comma splice.

Are Comma Splices a Problem in IELTS?

The short answer:

YES!!!

In the IELTS writing exam, punctuation is important. [Here is a guide to punctuation for IELTS.] You need to be able to punctuate correctly in order to do well. This is because a quarter of your grade comes from grammar. The marking is divided up like this:

  1. Task Achievement / Response (25%)
  2. Coherence and Cohesion (25%)
  3. Lexical Resource (25%)
  4. Grammatical Range and Accuracy (25%)

It is that last part that will cause you problems. In order to succeed at Grammatical Range and Accuracy, you will have to be able to punctuate with some accuracy. Don’t worry – you don’t need to get it absolutely perfect in order to score Band 7.0. However, you will need to avoid some big mistakes like the comma splice.

As such, you need to figure out what a comma splice is so that you can recognize that you have made the mistake, and then figure out exactly how to fix it.

How to Fix a Comma Splice

The first step to fixing a comma splice to know that you have made a mistake, and it is therefore important that you understand exactly what a comma splice is.

When you find a sentence that suffers from a comma splice, you will need to change it by one of three ways:

  1. Alter the sentence in the ways listed above.
  2. Add a full stop to make it into two sentences.
  3. Turn the complex sentence into a compound one.

Let’s look at how that can be done.

Here is another example of a comma splice:

  • Small communities might be that piece of the immigrant home that was missing, keeping their local traditions and mother tongue is definitely important to remind them of their roots.

In this sentence, we can clearly see that there are two independent clauses. They are joined only by a comma, and this is a big mistake. We can change it according to the above methods:

  • Small communities might be that piece of the immigrant home that was missing, as keeping their local traditions and mother tongue is definitely important to remind them of their roots.
    • (here I have added a coordinating conjunction – “as”)
  • Small communities might be that piece of the immigrant home that was missing. Keeping their local traditions and mother tongue is definitely important to remind them of their roots.
    • (in this case I have made two sentences by adding a full stop)
  • Small communities might be that piece of the immigrant home that was missing because keeping their local traditions and mother tongue is definitely important to remind them of their roots.
    • (now the sentence is a compound one as the second clause has become a dependent clause)

I cannot change the above sentence by adding a conjunctive adverb because none fit. Sometimes this is the case, and you will need to change the sentence according to what can logically be done.

Let’s look at a second example with more possibilities:

  • That car part was for public use, the old one became the staff car park.
  • That car park was for public use, while the old one became the staff car park.
    • (this is now a compound sentence)
  • That car park was for public use; however, the old one became the staff car park.
    • (here we have a suitable conjunctive adverb)
  • That car park was for public use; the old one became the staff car park.
    • (these clauses are short enough to be divided by just a semi-colon)
  • That car park was for public use. The old one became the staff car park.
    • (we can also make them into two sentences!)
  • That car park was for public use, and the old one became the staff car park.
    • (often it is easiest just to use a coordinating conjunction)

Note: Adding just a semi-colon can be problematic. Technically, the two clauses must be very close in meaning, and usually the must be quite short, in order for this punctuation to be acceptable.

Getting Better at Punctuation

Punctuation is really hard, but it is not impossible to learn. In fact, if you dedicate yourself, I think you could learn most of the rules in one or two days, and then spend a few weeks practicing to get really good at them.

I recommend that you read my book, Grammar for IELTS:

new cover Small e1551981355329 wz83u9 201x300 - IELTS Mistakes: The Comma Splice
My book.

It contains all you really need to know about punctuation and clauses. Once you have read this, you should be able to avoid comma splices. If you make one by accident, hopefully you can find it and fix it like I showed you above.

If you need help with your IELTS writing, consider using my writing correction service. It is the easiest way to figure out what mistakes you are making so that you can avoid them in future. Using my service will put you on the fast-track to IELTS success! Send me an e-mail at david@ted-ielts.com if you want more details.