Revising Comma Splices in Writing

A tutorial on how to revise comma splices in your writing

You create a comma splice when you join two independent clauses with a comma but without a conjunction. To be able to understand what that means it is important to understand what an independent clause is and what a conjunction is.

 An independent clause is a clause that has a subject and a verb and that expresses a ‘complete thought’. This means that an independent clause has a meaning on its own and does not need another clause to give it meaning. A simple example of an independent clause would be I sleep until nine, for instance. Here the subject is I, the verb is sleep, and the sentence expresses a complete thought because it is clear what is meant.

Conjunctions are words that link other words, phrases or sentences together, like in this example:

I like ice skating and field hockey, but I hate ice hockey.

Here and and but are the conjunctions that link the words and phrases together. As mentioned before, a comma splice is created when two independent clauses are joint together with a comma but without a conjunction, like, for example and or but.

The following is an example of how a comma splice is created starting with two independent clauses. The first independent clause is:

Spiders are not considered insects.

And the other one is:

They are arachnids.

When you join these two sentences together using just a comma – like in the example – you create a comma splice.

Spiders are not considered insects, they are arachnids.

There are three ways in which you can correct a comma splice. You can:

  1. Add a conjunction
  2. Change the comma into a semicolon
  3. Make separate sentences.

So, let’s take this sentence with a comma splice and rewrite it in these three different ways:

So, we start with:

He is not going to buy a house, he is planning to rent one.

This sentence contains a comma splice.

Adding a Conjunction

If you add a conjunction to the sentence, it would then read like this:

He is not going to buy a house, but he is planning to rent one.

So, the comma is still there, but it is now followed by a conjunction.

Adding a Semi-colon

Instead of using a conjunction, you could also add a semi-colon. The advantage of that is that the sentence would read the same as the originals sentence with the comma splice, the only difference being that it is no grammatically correct.

He is not going to buy a house; he is planning to rent one.

If you decide to use a semi-colon, it is important to make sure there is a close, logical connection between the two independent clauses. In this case the semicolon works because both sentences are about ways get a house.

Two Separate Independent Clauses

Another option is to divide the sentence containing the comma splice into two separate independent clauses. The sentence would then look like this:

He is not going to buy a house. He is planning to rent one.

Even though turning a sentence containing a comma splice into two separate sentences is an acceptable option, you have to keep in mind that good writing often means having to connect ideas. This is very difficult to do, however, if you use to many simple independent clauses, because it often leads to a very ‘choppy’ and simplistic writing style.

Acceptable Uses of a Comma Splice

There are also a few instances in which comma splices are acceptable. The first one is when using question tags, like in:

He is not here, is he?

It is also acceptable to use comma splices in short parallel contradictions, so when both phrases that make up the contradiction have a similar grammatical structure, like in:

I’m not rich, I’m poor.

Finally, comma splices are often used in fiction and poetry for the simple reason that in these types of informal writing the rules are a lot less strict. An example would be:

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