What is a comma splice, and how can we identify it?

A comma splice is a grammatical error that’s easy to identify. It’s when a comma separates two phrases (independent clauses) that would make better sense as two separate sentences or with a conjunction between them.

For example,

  • It was raining heavily, we decided to go home.

“It was raining heavily” would be a fine sentence if we added a full stop. So is “We decided to go home.” (It was a miserable night to go out.)

Are comma splices bad?

If you only looked at the example above, you might think comma splices are no big deal. But it’s important to avoid using them in formal writing and copywriting as they are grammatically incorrect. But just as importantly, they make our sentences less clear and concise. A reader dealing with a long uninteresting sentence does not become an interested client.

However (as with nearly everything in English), there are exceptions. In creative writing, all bets are off, and comma splices can make unique sentences.

  • “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.” Alfred Tennyson

What’s more, studies have shown that the rise of text messaging and other short-form communication has made comma splices more frequent in everyday use.

This may be fine if you’re texting your partner your grocery list:

  • “I need tomatoes, can you pick up bacon too?”

But in long-form, formal writing like a tender submission or your resume, a comma splice can be a disastrous typo.

How to fix a comma splice

Fixing a comma splice is case-specific. Going back to our previous example, we can replace the comma with a semi-colon:

  • It was raining heavily; we decided to go home.

We can separate these two clauses into two different sentences.

  • It was raining heavily. We decided to go home.

Or we can add conjunctions such as for, so, or, but etc.

  • It was raining heavily, so we decided to go home.

Unfortunately, not every solution works for every sentence. For example, the em-dash, usually a lifesaver for simplifying a long sentence, would feel odd with our example.

  • It was raining heavily – so we decided to go home.

But that same em-dash might feel totally at home in:

  • He never forgot that day – so much time had passed.

This comma splice business is making my head spin!

Totally understandable. We understand you’d prefer to focus on building your business or managing your clients. Comma splices and sentences clauses are a finicky business. Fortunately, these are precisely what the grammarians at Proof Communications love looking for.

If you’d like proofreading services to get rid of annoying comma splices, as well as avoid disastrous typos, get in touch at 02 8036 5532 or complete our contact form.

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