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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,
Episode #371

 

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”

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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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About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips network and creator of Grammar Girl, which has been named one of Writer's Digest's 101 best websites for writers multiple times. The Grammar Girl podcast has also won Best Education Podcast multiple times in the Podcast Awards, and Mignon is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame. Mignon is the author of the New York Times best-seller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing" and six other books on writing. She has appeared as a guest on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" and the "Today Show" and has been featured in the New York Times, Business Week, the Washington Post, USA Today, CNN.com, and more. She was previously the chair of media entrepreneurship in the Reynolds School of Journalism in Reno, NV. She hates the phrase "grammar nazi" and loves the word "kerfuffle." She has a B.A. in English from the University of Washington in Seattle and an M.S. in biology from Stanford University. Mignon believes that learning is fun, and the vast rules of grammar are wonderful fodder for lifelong study. 

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