Almost . . . Everything You Wanted to Know About Comma Splices

 

What is a comma splice? Two independent clauses joined with a comma is a comma splice; literally, two sentences are spliced together with comma.

 

Independent sentences may be joined correctly in three ways:
1. with a period and capital letter,
2. with a semicolon, or
3. with a comma in combination with a coordinating conjunction.

The following sentence contains a comma splice:

He liked her, she didn't like him.


The following sentences show ways to correct it:

He liked her. She didn't like him.

He liked her; she didn't like him.

He liked her, but* she didn't like him.

*You may use other coordinating conjunctions: and, or, for, nor, and sometimes yet and so.

Comma splices often occur in our writing when we sense a close relationship between two sentences, as in the example above. The best correction for these errors is to change the comma to a semicolon. Using the comma with a coordinating conjunction, however, can help to define the meaning relationship of the two sentences.

 

In quoted dialogue . . .

Comma splices show up frequently in quoted dialogue. The following sentence is a comma splice:

"I can't find my pen," she said, "do you know where it is?"

The dialogue marker, she said, can occur in the middle of one sentence.

"I can't," she said, "find my pen." But it cannot be used to join two complete sentences of the speaker. You correct the comma-spliced dialogue by deciding which quote goes with the dialogue marker, and making that a complete sentence. The other half of the dialogue stands by itself.

The corrected sentences read:

"I can't find my pen," she said. "Do you know where it is?"

 

Adverbial clauses. . .

Commas are used correctly when joining an adverbial clause to a main sentence, as in this example:

While I basked in the sun, the dog chased tennis balls around the swimming pool.


"While I basked in the sun" functions here as an adverb of time. Since it is not an independent sentence, but rather a modifier of the main clause, it is correctly set off by commas. Since it turns a clause into a modifier, while is called a subordinating conjunction. Some other subordinating conjunctions are before, because, if, although, as if, so that.

 

Some clauses also serve as nouns or adjectives and may not be punctuated as independent sentences.

 

 

Editing for comma splices. . .

The only sure-fire way to edit your paper for comma splices is to check each sentence to make sure it isn't actually two sentences spliced together with a comma. If you find two independent sentences, or complete ideas, joined without a full stop (semicolon or period) or a comma and a coordinating conjunction, provide the correct punctuation, as shown by the correct examples above.

 

 

Practice what you have learned. . .

 

In the following paragraph, there are five comma splices. Correct each one.

 

No one saw him steal the can of smoked oysters, he was too fast. He walked outside to the beat of the music, as the cashier smiled at him. "Look, you guys," he said, "I got some dinner." Jerry didn't approve, he could tell by the way Jerry kept spitting into a puddle in the parking lot. They climbed into the truck, even though Fred hadn't come out with the cigars. The heater started running, they felt more comfortable. Fred came back, and they drove away, Jerry's face was burning.
 

 

This document is part of a collection of instructional materials used in the University of Arkansas Quality Writing Center. Please send questions or requests to writcent@uark.edu.

 

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