The Dicey Comma Splice

comma splice

Commas are slippery little buggers. Of all the punctuation marks, they’re the hardest to pin down. Oh, there are rules, but sometimes it is still hard to judge. One area where there should be no confusion, but people still can’t seem to get it right, is the comma splice.

I get looks of astonishment when I tell folks they can’t just stick two independent clauses together with nothing but an anemic comma. They don’t believe that a comma splice is a type of run-on sentence.

“Whaddaya mean I can’t do it? I do it all the time!”

“Yes, yes you do. Frequency doesn’t equal correctness, you know.”

The problem with comma splices is that everyone seems to think there’s nothing wrong with them. Electronic grammar checkers don’t catch them. There’s even a YouTube video that declares it’s a proper way to use a comma. (See, you can’t believe everything that’s on YouTube!)

An author that I like typically has about 50 percent of her novels as comma splices. I enjoy her content immensely, but I still have that editorial voice working away.

“What in the name of all the grammar gods is she thinking?” it will scream as I’m trying to follow an intricate plot device.

“Shut up! I’m trying to enjoy this.”

“Seriously, didn’t they have any kind of editor for those books? What is she trying to do?”

“I don’t know. I’m not the editor. Will you please be quiet?!”

Authors will break grammar rules sometimes for effect, but they do it consciously for a specific reason. We have to know the rule in order to know why we’re breaking it. I have a hard time justifying what poetic license writers are taking when most of their work is filled with comma splices, especially when they’re so easy to fix.

Too many people write comma splices, they don’t know what they’re doing.

Here we have two independent clauses with a poor, little comma trying to keep them together. How do we help it out?

One thing we can do is make it two sentences: Too many people write comma splices. They don’t know what they’re doing.

Or, if we don’t want the reader to completely stop, we can replace the comma with a heartier semicolon: Too many people write comma splices; they don’t know what they’re doing.

We can help out the comma with a coordinating conjunction, one of the FANBOYS: Too many people write comma splices, but they don’t know what they’re doing.

If it’s a certain flow we’re looking for, we can always opt for the popular dependent clause approach: Too many people write comma splices because they don’t know what they’re doing.

Get the picture?

“Look! There’s another freaking comma splice!”

Sigh.

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