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What Is a Comma Splice? | Mastering Grammar

(Last Updated: 7 June 2024)


Comma Splices: What They Are and How to Fix Them

A comma splice is a common punctuation error that can make your writing seem unprofessional or unclear. However, the good news is that this error can be easily corrected. In this post, we will explore what comma splices are, how to identify them, and ways to correct them.

What is a Comma Splice?

A comma splice occurs when a comma is used to join two independent clauses (an independent clause is a group of words that can function as a standalone sentence) without an appropriate conjunction (i.e. a joining word) or suitable punctuation. Consider the following example:

I enjoy swimming, I also like playing football.

In the above example, there are two independent clauses: I enjoy swimming and I also like playing football. Each clause can stand on its own as a complete sentence, so linking them solely with a comma results in a comma splice.

How to Correct Comma Splices

There are three ways to correct comma splices:

1. Use a Full Stop

A full stop (also known as a period in American English) can be used to separate two independent clauses into separate sentences. For example:

✅ I enjoy swimming. I also like playing football.

This is the simplest way to fix a comma splice. The two sentences may sound a little abrupt when placed one after the other, but at least they will be grammatical. 

A full stop may be your best choice for fixing a comma splice when any of the following conditions applies: (1) it is obvious how the two independent clauses are logically connected; (2) one or both of the clauses are long; or (3) the ideas expressed in the two clauses are different.

2. Use a Semicolon

A semicolon can be used to separate two independent clauses. For example:

✅ I enjoy swimming; I also like playing football.

This solution is ideal if you prefer to encapsulate your two ideas in a single sentence rather than two.

A semicolon is likely the best solution when the following two conditions are met: (1) the logical connection between the two independent clauses is clear, and (2) the ideas expressed in the two clauses are closely related. 

3. Use a Conjunction

A conjunction (such as and, or, or but) can be used to connect two independent clauses. For example:

✅ I enjoy swimming, and I also like playing football.

A conjunction allows you to combine two independent clauses into a single sentence and indicate the logical relationship between them. In the example above, the relationship is one of addition: I enjoy both swimming and playing football.

When using conjunctions to correct comma splices, it is important to make sure that the two independent clauses are related and that the conjunction used is suitable for the meaning you wish to convey.

The above are three simple ways to address the issue of comma splices. Understand their differences and avoid relying on the same method every time you see a comma splice. View each instance of a comma splice in your writing as an opportunity to master the tools for building complex sentences from simpler ones.

More Examples of Comma Splices 

Below are more example sentences featuring comma splices, along with possible corrections:

Marcus loves reading novels, he can't wait to start the new one he has just bought.
Marcus loves reading novels, and he can't wait to start the new one he has just bought. (using the coordinating conjunction and)

I don't like coffee, I don't like tea either.
I don't like coffee, nor do I like tea. (using the coordinating conjunction nor)

He's very smart, he doesn't like to show off.
He's very smart, but he doesn't like to show off. (using the coordinating conjunction but)

She can come to the party, she can stay at home.
She can come to the party, or she can stay at home. (using the coordinating conjunction or)

It was raining outside, we decided to go for a walk.
It was raining outside, yet we decided to go for a walk. (using the coordinating conjunction yet)

My brother has a big test tomorrow, he needs to study more tonight.
My brother has a big test tomorrow, so he needs to study more tonight. (using the coordinating conjunction so)

❌ I couldn't sleep last night, I had too much coffee in the evening.
✅ I couldn't sleep last night because I had too much coffee in the evening. (using the subordinating conjunction because)

Leo didn't study for the exam, he knew he would fail.
Since Leo didn't study for the exam, he knew he would fail. (using the subordinating conjunction since)

She loves to dance, she has never taken a dance class.
Although she loves to dance, she has never taken a dance class. (using the subordinating conjunction although)

❌ My father is a doctor, my mother is a lawyer.
My father is a doctor; my mother is a lawyer. (using a semicolon)

I'm going to the store to buy some groceries, I need fish, bread, and eggs.
I'm going to the store to buy some groceries. I need fish, bread, and eggs. (using a full stop)

Now, you should be much better at identifying comma splices in sentences and correcting them using one of the methods outlined above. As you read more high-quality writing, you will enhance your ability to spot comma splices and avoid them in your own writing.

If you found this post useful in your English learning journey, please consider buying me a coffee to help me continue creating more informative content for English learners. You can also share this post with your family, friends, and colleagues. Keep practising, keep learning, and remember—every great writer started out as a beginner.

Happy writing!

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Practice

Read each sentence below and decide whether it contains a comma splice. Write yes if it does, and no if it does not.

1. Chris likes tigers, he also likes bears.

2. I'm very tired, I must keep working.

3. I woke up early this morning because I had a job interview at 9 a.m.

4. Dolphins are not actually fish, they are mammals.

5. Christy was late, so we left without her.

6. I'm thinking of dropping Physics, it's really difficult.

Answer Key

1. yes (possible correction: Chris likes tigers, and he also likes bears.)

2. yes (possible correction: Although I'm very tired, I must keep working.)

3. no (This sentence does not contain a comma splice. The two independent clauses are properly connected with the subordinating conjunction because.)

4. yes (possible correction: Dolphins are not actually fish; they are mammals.)

5. no (This sentence does not contain a comma splice. The two independent clauses are properly connected with the coordinating conjunction so.)

6. yes (possible correction: I'm thinking of dropping Physics. It's really difficult.)

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