by Jordan Fischer
There are a lot of ways to use the versatile comma. Today, we’ll be talking about a common way to misuse it: comma splices.
The basic function of a comma is to create a pause in the pace of reading. Pauses are often used when listing items, when offering additional, non-essential details or when combining two independent clauses with the help of a coordinating conjunction like “and.” A comma splice is a failed attempt at the latter.
Independent clauses are, appropriately enough, clauses which can stand on their own as sentences without additional modification. For example, consider a young girl playing kickball: “Sally stepped up to the plate. Then she kicked the ball.” Each sentence is whole in and of itself. But, what if we want to make the action seem faster for the reader? We can speed up the pace by reducing the hard stop a period offers to the softer pause of a comma. That sentence might look like this: “Sally stepped up to the plate, and then kicked the ball.”
Comma splices come into play when writers forget to include one of the seven coordinating conjunctions (“for,” “and,” “nor,” “but,” “or,” “yet,” “so”) after a comma used to combine two independent clauses. A comma splice of our example above would be: “Sally stepped up to the plate, then kicked the ball.” Fixing the comma splice is as simple as inserting a coordinating conjunction or using a period to remake the clauses into separate sentences.
Comma splices also frequently occur when writers attempt to be clever by joining two independent clauses together with a comma and conjunctive adverb. Conjunctive adverbs – a long list which includes words like “therefore,” “furthermore,” “anyway” and “nonetheless” – can be used to join independent clauses, but only with the help of a period or semicolon.
So how do you recognize a comma splice? If you’ve used a comma to join two clauses, examine whether they are independent, or can stand on their own. If so, have you used a coordinating conjunction after the comma? If not, you’ve likely created a comma splice. Fortunately, the solution is a simple and quick one: insert a coordinating conjunction, or separate the clauses with a period.