Comma Splice

How to fix one of the most common writing errors.

Mignon Fogarty
5-minute read
Episode #228

More Comma Splice Examples

Let's take one more of Scott's mangled sentences and see if we can fix it!

This one is from page 29, where he's explaining how one of the characters lured in investors for his evil plan.

They were getting it, he had them. (wrong)

So in the comma splice repair kit, we've got periods, semicolons, and coordinating conjunctions. (See Episode 122: Is “Have Got” Acceptable English?)

The period definitely works: They were getting it. He had them.

The semicolon works because the two clauses are related: They were getting it; he had them.

And in this case we can add a coordinating conjunction to fix the problem too: They were getting it, and he had them.

Comma Splice Summary

So, I hope you get it! Commas aren't meant to join main clauses all by themselves; to force them into that role is to perpetrate a comma splice. That's bad, but it's easy to fix.

You, Sir, Are no Cormac McCarthy

Finally, another thing that's interesting is that the example sentences I used aren't in Ancestor anymore. Scott's writing has improved over the last three years, he reworked the book, and it probably had more extensive editing from Crown than it did with his initial small publisher. All the comma splices have been fixed.

The change highlights an interesting point about punctuation and writing in general that sometimes comes up. People will argue that authors should be allowed to make stylistic choices about writing and include comma splices or whatever quirks they want as a matter of art. They'll point to best-sellers such as E. E. Cummings who used all lowercase letters or Cormac McCarthy who is known to use as little punctuation as possible, often avoiding commas, apostrophes and quotation marks.

Occasionally, someone brilliant intentionally bucks the rules and still succeeds, but it's much more common for writers to have consistent errors like comma splices in their manuscripts not because they are brilliant renegades, but because they actually don't know the rules.

I've talked to many editors who do look at the grammar and usage in manuscripts and don't look kindly on errors. Unless you want to make it more difficult to get your ideas across to editors and readers, stick with traditional punctuation.


About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show. Her popular LinkedIn Learning courses help people write better to communicate better.