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Comma Splice—A Common Writing Mistake

on January 3rd, 2011 by Fiction Editor Beth Hill and last modified on January 3, 2011

Comma splices are a common and an easily identified writing mistake.

So, what’s a comma splice?

A comma splice is found in a sentence where a comma is used to join independent clauses when a stronger separator is called for. (Independent clauses have conjugated verbs and can stand alone as sentences.)

Examples of comma splices (this is what you don’t want to do):

Bob wore a white suit, Billy Ray wore a black one.

Tina hoped Santa would come soon, she had plans for her new doll.

He drank the poison, Sally was the one to die.

While the phrases might be related, punctuation rules require a stronger break between them than a comma provides.

There are a handful of ways to correct comma splices:

1.  Use a period and separate one sentence into two.

Bob wore a white suit. Billy Ray wore a black one.

2.  Use a semi-colon instead of a comma. It allows for a stronger separation than a comma does.

Bob wore a white suit; Billy Ray wore a black one.

3.  Add a conjunction to join the two clauses (keep the comma).

Bob wore a white suit, but Billy Ray wore a black one.

4. Use a dash to join/separate the clauses.

Bob wore a white suit—Billy Ray wore a black one.

5. Change one independent clause to a dependent one.

Since Bob wore a white suit, Billy Ray wore a black one.

Can you break this rule about not using comma splices? Of course. Almost every writing rule can be broken and broken to good effect. But first you need to know the rule, know how to fix sentences and phrases when you break the rule, and how to break a rule to your advantage.

Comma splices are most often allowed when the independent clauses are closely related and the sentence is short.

I ate the beef, you ate the snake.

Comma splices may also be accepted when the impact is stronger with them.

I came, I saw, I conquered.

Comma splices can jerk a reader from your fiction, make him focus on the mechanics rather than the content. Correcting comma splices gives your writing polish and makes it easier for readers to follow your story, to stay lost in the fiction.

Keep your readers focused on the story. Rid your writing of anything that will distract the reader from that story, from your imaginary world. Clear your manuscript of comma splices.

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