Avoiding the Dreaded Comma Splice

Swallowtail butterfly caterpillar close up, croppedThe comma represents no sound, but we pronounce it anyway when we read a sentence in English. A comma is a signal that we need to regard a word as a sort of ending point. Used properly, commas enhance the flow of your writing and let you develop a lovely, unique cadence. Used improperly, commas can muddle your writing and make your sentences awkward.

One frequent comma error is the comma splice, this sentence is a perfect example of one of them. It contained two clauses, one on each side of the comma. Both of the clauses were independent, and yet they were joined only by the weak mooring of an unadorned comma.

This comma splice can be corrected in one of three ways: the comma can be replaced by a break between sentences; the comma can be replaced by a semicolon; or the comma can be supplemented with a conjunction. These techniques keep your sentence’s clauses from running together, and they help your reader process the information your sentence is trying to get across.

Writers frequently have issues with comma splices in dialogue. It may be well and good to use conjunctions and semicolons in descriptive passages, but speech patterns tend to vary ever so slightly from the cadence of descriptive prose. Let’s face it: people speak in comma splices, and it’s tempting to write them into lines spoken between characters. However, you should opt for the emdash instead. It conveys a pause between two independent clauses – not quite a period, but more grammatically correct than a comma.

Comma splices are one of those little habitual errors that many writers have a hard time shaking off. However, it’s worth it to keep an eye out for this common mistake, because it can make your writing seem unpolished and make it hard for your readers to follow you. Be sure to always use something stronger than a comma to link two independent clauses.