The comma splice

Posted on 29 April 2015 by Emily Stella

 
The first thing we’re taught when we learn to write is that you start a sentence with a capital letter and end it with a full stop. But it’s very common to see two entirely independent clauses separated by a comma. This is known as a comma splice, and it’s grammatically incorrect.

Here are some examples:

John went to pick up his document from the printer, the document had failed to print.

Louise had always wanted to be an investment banker, she was keen to earn a high salary.

Bertie had a penchant for coloured sticky notes, he couldn’t find any in the stationery cupboard.

All of these sentences can be fixed easily, either with a joining word (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) after the comma, or with a full stop or semicolon in place of the comma.

John went to pick up his document from the printer, but the document had failed to print.

Louise had always wanted to be an investment banker; she was keen to earn a high salary.

Bertie had a penchant for coloured sticky notes. Sadly, he couldn’t find any in the stationery cupboard.

 

Full stop

You can break the two independent clauses with a full stop. This is often the best solution.

Freddie was a diligent and committed employee. He stayed late nearly every night of the week.

 

Joining words (also known as coordinating conjunctions)

There are seven joining words, which can be remembered using the word fanboys.

For, and, nor, but, or, yet, so

Used alongside a comma, these joining words can correctly join two independent clauses. Obviously, the joining word you choose must make sense with your two clauses.

The markets are up, and inflation is down.

The markets are up, but inflation is down.

The markets are up, so inflation is down.

 

Semicolon

If a full stop causes too much separation between your ideas, you can use a semicolon for a smoother transition.

Every year the industry conference is held in the Caribbean; it’s always oversubscribed.

He was pleased with the result; it was better than expected.

To check if your semicolon is correct, try to replace it with a full stop. The two new sentences should make sense on their own. If either of them doesn’t make sense, your semicolon is probably wrong.

So take a step back the next time you’ve finished writing a document and check for comma splices. Then remedy them!