Grammar

Here’s How to Spot a Comma Splice

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A comma splice is one of the many ways our beloved English language can trip us up if we’re not careful. Comma splices are quite common.

The other day, I read an online news story whose very first sentence contained a comma splice.

Here’s the sentence as it originally appeared in an online article I’m not naming to protect the guilty:

Everyone alive today was born into an electrical age, many might still not have access to it, but everybody has been touched by it.

The sentence is mostly clear in its intent.

Essentially, it first states that you were born into an electric age. If you’re not alive, you wouldn’t be reading this little blog post, anyway.

It’s entirely possible that they have blogs in Heaven. But the only people who’d know are dead.

The sentence then states that everyone may not have access to electricity but they are nevertheless affected (or have been) by it.

But the sentence contains a comma splice. When you read the sentence out loud, you’ll quickly notice it doesn’t flow quite right.

What is a comma splice?

One definition of a comma splice is the errant use of a comma to connect what should be separate sentences. That’s my own definition, but I think it’s pretty clear.

Google’s dictionary defines it this way: “An instance of using a comma to link two independent clauses (which should instead be linked by a colon, semicolon, or conjunction).”

There are times when it’s perfectly valid to combine two short sentences into one longer one.

Consider these two sentences:

The girl lost her book.

She was afraid her father would punish her.

A colon could establish a causational relationship between the two sentences:

The girl lost her book: she was afraid her father would punish her.

Her fear was a result of her having lost the book. But note that when you use a colon between two independent clauses, there needs to be a relationship between the two. One should follow or relate to the other.

If there’s no logical connection between the two, the colon will be as confusing as the comma.

A semi-colon would connect the two independent thoughts into a single sentence but make it clear that the joining was intentional:

The girl lost her book; she was afraid her father would punish her.

Those two sentences can be combined into one by adding a conjunction like and:

The girl lost her book and she was afraid her father would punish her.

If you wanted to turn the sentence into an intentional comma splice, you’d replace the and with a comma:

The girl lost her book, she was afraid her father would punish her.

That last one doesn’t read properly for the eye because something looks amiss. We see that it needs different punctuation or at least one extra word to help it make sense. It’s the comma splice that causes that confusion.

Attaching two sentences improperly into one creates a comma splice.

Two independent clauses need to either be separated into two sentences or connected with a conjunction, semicolon or colon (if there’s a relationship between the two).

That’s how you avoid a comma splice.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 28 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.