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Comma splices are common in writing, especially when writers are unsure how to use commas properly. In this lesson, you will learn how to identify and fix comma splices.
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Before We Get to Comma Splices
A comma splice happens when you use a comma incorrectly; therefore, we need to understand when it is appropriate to use a comma. This way, you will understand better when you break the rule and produce a comma splice.
There are many rules for the use of commas, but let’s examine two basic ones.
Rule 1. Use a comma when you start a sentence with something other than the independent clause.
Let’s examine the following independent and dependent clauses:
Independent clause: John went to bed.
Independent clause: after he watched the movie.
If you start the sentence with the independent clause, you need no comma (A below). If you start with the dependent clause, you need a comma (B below).
(A) John went to bed after he watched the movie.
(B) After John watched the movie,comma he went to bed.
In fact, you need a comma when you start with anything other than the subject of the independent clause. (An exception is when you start with something very short such as “yesterday” or “sometimes.”)
Examine the use of commas in these example sentences.
After the movie,Comma, John went to bed.
Despite the early hour,Comma, John went to bed.
Just before 10 o’clock,Comma, John went to bed.
Exception: Yesterday John went to bed early. No comma.
Rule 2. Use a comma when you use a coordinating conjunction to join two complete, independent clauses.
When you use a coordinating conjunction (i.e., “for,” “and,” “but,” “or,” “yet,” or “so”) to join two complete, independent clauses, you use a comma between them.
Jane cleared the table,Comma, and John washed the dishes.
The movie was boring,Comma, yet you watched it till the end.
The movie was boring,Comma, so we left the theater early.
What is a Comma Splice?
A comma splice happens when you use a comma to join two complete, independent sentences.
You must not use a comma in each of these sentences, so they are all run-on sentences with comma splices.
I bought shoes online, they did not fit.
There was a huge storm, we thought we had roof damage, we were lucky.
He missed work twice this week, he is going to get himself fired.
Identifying and Fixing Comma Splices
If you use a comma between two independent clauses (i.e., each clause can stand alone), you very likely have a comma splice. To make sure, check the rules you learned earlier (Rules 1 and 2 above). If they do not apply, you most likely have a comma splice.
To correct comma splice errors, you can simply let the independent clauses stand alone, that is, use terminal punctuation between them (a period, question mark, or exclamation point). You can also see if you can join them using a conjunction, in which case you may need a comma.
Let’s fix the comma splices we saw earlier.
Comma splice: I bought shoes online, they did not fit.
Fix 1: I bought shoes online. They did not fit.
Fix 2: I bought shoes online, but they did not fit.
Comma splices: There was a huge storm, we thought we had roof damage, we were lucky.
Fix: There was a huge storm. We thought we had roof damage, but we were lucky.
Comma splice: He missed work twice this week, he is going to get himself fired.
Fix: He missed work twice this week. He is going to get himself fired.
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