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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

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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.

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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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