What is it with the comma splice?

Say No to comma splices posterAm I just becoming more pedantic as I get older?

Or is there a general decline in grammar today?

Either way, I’ve recently noticed a rise in basic grammatical mistakes, including the increasingly rampant comma splice.

And it’s starting to bug me, hence the reason for writing this post.

What is the comma splice?

First off, what exactly is a comma splice? It’s certainly not a well-known grammatical term, unless you’re studying/teaching English or a professional writer.

New Hart’s Rules – The Oxford Style Guide (the latest addition to my reference bookshelf) states that “a comma alone should not be used to join two main clauses, or those linked by adverbs or adverbial phrases such as nevertheless, therefore, and as a result. This error is called a comma splice.”

So it’s basically the incorrect use of a comma to join two independent clauses. These are ones that can stand alone as a complete sentence. A comma is simply not strong enough to splice them together. If you do, you end up with what are known as run-on sentences.

The comma splice in action

From novels to emails, websites to tweets, the comma splice is evident everywhere.

Here are a couple of real-life examples that I’ve come across in the past few days:

Comma splice example from email

Comma splice example in tweet

I even received an email recently from a magazine publisher (who should know better) consisting of seven or eight consecutive run-on sentences. I had to pause for breath halfway through!

How to avoid using the comma splice

You can avoid making a comma splice error in several different ways:

  • Use a full stop to split it into two full sentences
  • Replace the comma with a semi-colon or colon
  • Add a coordinating conjunction such as and, but or so after the comma
  • Add a subordinating conjunction, such as because, to make one clause subordinate to the other

If we look back at the examples above, these could therefore be rewritten as follows:

“Don’t get your tinsel in a tangle; we’re here to help.”

“There’s a time and a place for Christmas jumpers, and that time is now”

Another way around the problem is to use a gerund:

“Cook over a medium heat, turning frequently until product is piping hot.”

Or you could follow in the footsteps of a popular TV show and avoid a comma splice by using an ellipsis: “I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here!”

The sooner the world is rid of comma splices, the happier I will be!

(image via)

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