You may be tired of comma talk, but I want to toss one more punctuation post out to you before I move on to other topics.
This one’s about the comma splice.
To fix a comma splice, you first have to know what it is. A comma splice occurs when you connect or “splice” together two independent clauses with a comma. As a reminder, an independent clause can stand on its own as a sentence, with a subject and verb.
The writing conference invited my favorite author.
That’s an independent clause.
She spoke for an hour about her muse.
That’s an independent clause, too.
A comma splice would occur when you connect those two independent clauses with a comma so it would look like this:
The writing conference invited my favorite author, she spoke for an hour about her muse.
This must be fixed, or your editor might pluck her hair out in small handfuls each time she encounters one. Save her this painful experience by fixing the comma splice yourself.
Five Easy Ways to Fix a Comma Splice:
Use a period and let each stand alone. These independent clauses are strong enough. They can do the work of a sentence:
The writing conference invited my favorite author. She spoke for an hour about her muse.
Boom. You’re done.
Your next option for fixing a comma splice is to use a semicolon, but some people feel antagonistic toward semicolons. Kurt Vonnegut declared we should not use them. “All they do is show you’ve been to college,” he said.
I suppose if you use semicolons liberally you might seem pretentious to someone, but I find them to be useful—especially to fix a comma splice. You can use a semicolon in place of a comma if the two ideas are closely related, and I think they are in our example.
With the semicolon, the example would read:
The writing conference invited my favorite author; she spoke for an hour about her muse.
3. Em Dash
Another option is to use the em dash. I’m rather fond of the em dash and find it often works as a substitute for the semicolon when fixing a comma splice—again, when the two ideas are closely related:
The writing conference invited my favorite author—she spoke for an hour about her muse.
4. Coordinating Conjunction
Another quick fix is to keep the comma and add a coordinating conjunction. Did you learn the memory trick to help recall the coordinating conjunctions? It’s FANBOYS.
Each of those letters is the first letter of one of the coordinating conjunctions:
for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so
Sometimes this will give you the best effect:
The writing conference invited my favorite author, and she spoke for an hour about her muse.
A more involved fix is to revise the sentence if for some reason you don’t like the other options:
I attended a conference where my favorite author spoke for an hour about her muse.
We have no comma at all in that rewrite.
At the writing conference, my favorite author spoke for an hour about her muse.
Avoid a Negative Response: Eliminate Comma Splices
Some writers like to bend this rule. They think the unobtrusive comma fits their style and flow. It feels conversational or seems poetic—or they see another blogger or writer doing it, so they think they can follow suit.
If you leave in comma splices, industry professionals may wonder how many other ways your manuscript will stray from The Chicago Manual of Style guidelines—it might be a red flag to a conservative editor. Why risk a negative response to your work when you have so many other ways of constructing a sentence?
Especially if you’re in the early stages of your career as a published writer, I recommend you eliminate comma splices. After all, see how easy they are to fix?
- Ep 94: Grammar Matters: Why Concern Ourselves with Commas?
- The Man Who Hated Semicolons (Kurt Vonnegut’s quote)
- Vonnegut’s Famous Semicolon Quote Was Taken Out of Context (Grammar Girl)
- Ep 96: When You Really Need Next-Level Edits (next-level edits, lower-order concerns)
- All podcast episodes
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