Stop splicing those commas!

by Raymond DeLuca, English Grammar and Language Tutor

The comma splice is a common mistake that I often find in student writing. It is, by no means, a catastrophic mistake, but it tells me that the writer is still trying to figure out what to do with commas, which play a really, really important role in English writing.  Just in these two sentences, I’ve already used five commas—now six! So, what is a comma splice?

To “splice” something means to unite it or to join it together with something else. When you connect two independent sentences with a comma instead of a period, a semicolon, or a coordinating conjunction (more on all that in a future post) that is called a comma splice.

Example:

I love my Expos class, writing isn’t so bad.

This sentence is written incorrectly. The comma in between “class” and “writing” is splicing together two separate sentences. Commas do a lot of different things in written English, but they cannot (on their own) connect two sentences. How could we re-write the above example to make it correct? Here are a few solutions:

Solution #1: I love my Expos class. Writing isn’t so bad.

Solution: #2: I love my Expos class; writing isn’t so bad.

Solution #3: I love my Expos class, and writing isn’t so bad.

The simplest way to fix the comma splice is Solution #1. A period, not a comma, is what we need to separate two sentences: I love dogs. I love cats. Dogs love me. Cats could care less about me.

Let these short sentences stand and breathe on their own. For those of you who are a bit confused by Solution #2 and/or Solution #3, don’t worry. There’ll be a future blog post about that soon. For now, remember that a period is the easiest way to fix a comma splice.

It should be said that some writers intentionally use comma splices for stylistic purposes. A comma splice can convey causality, give a sentence an informal tone, or be used for dramatic effect. For example, writers tend to transcribe Julius Caesar’s famous phrase “Veni, vidi, vici” in English as “I came, I saw, I conquered,” not as “I came. I saw. I conquered.” It’s more impactful with the comma splices, isn’t it? But save that sort of splicing for the pros. You need to learn the rules before you can start breaking them.