Self-Editing Tip: Comma Splice

What’s a Comma Splice?

A comma splice is an error. It is a sentence in which a comma is incorrectly used to separate independent clauses in a compound sentence. A comma can be used to create a compound sentence, but such a sentence would need more than just a comma to be correct.

For example:
Your report is late, we were depending on you.
Fish travel in schools, whales travel in pods.

To confirm there is a coma splice, check if you can replace the comma with a period. Since the above comma splices can be divided into two sentences, it confirms that the original sentences are indeed compound sentences.

Your report is late. We were depending on you.
Fish travel in schools. Whales travel in pods.

The above examples are simple. A comma splice can get confusing in a long sentence when there are other commas present.

For example:
When I was sixteen, my mother gave me a pretty, milky-white pearl necklace, it belonged to Lady Ashley Lamb, an ancestor who married beneath her social status.

The third comma in the above sentence is creating a comma splice and is incorrect, but the other commas are correctly used. The sentence can be easily fixed thus:

When I was sixteen, my mother gave me a pretty, milky-white pearl necklace. It belonged to Lady Ashley Lamb, an ancestor who married beneath her social status.

Correcting a Comma Splice

Here are some common ways to fix a comma splice:

1. Separate the comma splice into two sentences using a period. But be careful of overdoing this because this results in short, choppy sentences–not something that is always desirable. Long comma splices are good candidates for this correction method.

When I was sixteen, my mother gave me a pretty, milky-white pearl necklace. It belonged to Lady Ashley Lamb, an ancestor who married beneath her social status.

2. Follow the comma with and, but, or, or another coordinating conjunction. This is the most common method of fixing a comma splice.

Fish travel in schools, but whales travel in pods.

3. Replace the comma with a semicolon. This method works best when you think the sentence doesn’t sound right with a coordinating conjunction.

Your report is late; we were depending on you.

Summary

  • A comma splice occurs when only a comma is used to separate two independent clauses.
  • To confirm there is a comma splice, see if you can replace the comma with a period. If so, the sentence is indeed a comma splice and should be fixed.
  • To correct a comma spice you can (1) use a period to break the two sentences, (2) separate the two parts using a comma followed by a coordinating conjunction, or (3) use a semicolon to separate the parts.

Further Reading

Between You & Me – Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Morris
Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style

Have you written a comma splice before without knowing what it was? Do you think you will be able to recognize one and fix it after reading this? Do you have a question regarding comma splices? Let me know in the comments.

The next self-editing tip will be D for Dialogues. Stay tuned!
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– Dola.

Dola

Fiction editor, Author, Bibliophile.

6 thoughts on “Self-Editing Tip: Comma Splice

    1. So true, Debbie. Many writers fix these in the re-writing or the self-editing stages, but many don’t know these are errors and that they need to fix these! Thanks for visiting.

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