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How to Avoid a Common Comma Error: The Comma Splice

And why sometimes, it’s not even an error.

By
Mignon Fogarty,
June 13, 2013
Episode #371

Page 1 of 4

How to Avoid a Common Comma Error: The Comma Splice

A reader on Twitter who goes by @cbee asked me to do a show about comma splices. She says they’re everywhere—they’re rampant, and she’s tired of seeing them.

What Is a Comma Splice?

First, we have to figure out what a comma splice is. Maybe you’ve never even heard of the problem. It sometimes also goes by the name “comma fault” or “comma error,” but I think “comma splice” makes the most sense because the problem is using a comma to splice together things that the comma wasn’t meant to splice or join..

Read More About Other Janus Words Like “Splice”

For example, an independent clause is something that could stand on its own—essentially a sentence.

Aardvark enjoys fishing.

If you want to splice together two independent clauses, you aren’t supposed to use a comma. It’s not strong enough. Doing so is the error called a comma splice.

Aardvark enjoys fishing, Squiggly chooses a different lake for their vacation every year. [That’s a comma splice error because the comma is joining two independent clauses.]

If you want to join two independent clauses, you can use a semicolon:

Aardvark enjoys fishing; Squiggly chooses a different lake for their vacation every year.

You can use commas and conjunctions:

Aardvark enjoys fishing, so Squiggly chooses a different lake for their vacation every year.

You can add a subordinating conjunction and turn one of the clauses into a dependent clause and then use a comma between them:

Since Aardvark enjoys fishing, Squiggly chooses a different lake for their vacation every year.

Or you can just use a period and keep them as separate independent clauses:

Aardvark enjoys fishing. Squiggly chooses a different lake for their vacation every year.

But, you aren’t supposed to use a comma. Joining two independent clauses with a comma is called a comma splice, and that’s usually considered an error.

Next: A Revelation! Why So Many People Are Confused About Comma Splices

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