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How to Recognize and Fix a Comma Splice Grammatical Error

Updated on December 27, 2012

A comma splice occurs when a comma is used to join two independent clauses. This is an easy error to make, but it's a big no-no in English. Here, we'll briefly review independent clauses, determine how to identify what is a comma splice and what isn't, and discuss some easy fixes.

This sentence contains a comma splice.  We'll talk about what to do about this later.
This sentence contains a comma splice. We'll talk about what to do about this later. | Source

Independent Clauses

An independent clause (as opposed to a subordinate clause) contains a subject and a predicate and expresses a complete thought. Independent clauses can stand on their own as complete sentences.

Some independent clauses include:

  • The dog ran quickly
  • He got away
  • I love watching movies

Each of these is an independent clauses because each one makes sense on its own; you don't need any extra information in order to understand them.

Some subordinate clauses include:

  • Because the dog ran quickly
  • When he got away
  • Where I love watching movies

These clauses each have subjects and predicates, but they don't make sense all alone. You need more information to complete the thought.

What Is A Comma Splice

Comma splices occur when a writer joins two independent clauses in one sentence but doesn't do it correctly. The easiest way to figure out if you've just used a comma splice is to check the clause on either side of the comma. If each can stand alone as sentences, you've spliced it.

Would you look at that?  The comma splice is still there!
Would you look at that? The comma splice is still there! | Source

Let's take a look at the sentence above. Separating it at the comma, we find two independent clauses: "She used many comma splices in her writing" and "it was distracting." Each of these could stand alone; they do not need to be connected together in order to make sense.

Some more examples of the comma splice include:

  • It was raining, he got wet.
  • I just don't understand physics, my teacher doesn't explain it very well.
  • I want to be a better writer, I have to start practicing.

What Isn't A Comma Splice

Not every comma that appears mid-sentence is evidence of a comma splice. Commas can sometimes be used to join an independent clause with a subordinate clause.

Here are some sentences that do not contain comma splices:

  • When she ran out of milk, she bought some more at the store.
  • Because the dog ran quickly, his owner was out of breath.

These sentences both contain two clauses joined by a comma. However, "When she ran out of milk" and "Because the dog ran quickly" are subordinate clauses, which means they cannot stand alone as sentences. In cases like these, it's appropriate to use a comma to join them to independent clauses and make complete sentences.

How To Fix A Comma Splice

There are several simple ways to eliminate comma splices from your writing.

The first way is to separate the clauses completely, using a period to start a new sentences instead of a comma to combine the clauses. Because each clause can stand on its own, you do not necessarily have to combine them at all. This is the best choice if your two clauses are not too closely related.

Separate your comma splice into two separate sentences.
Separate your comma splice into two separate sentences. | Source
Coordinating conjunctions are helpful and easy to remember!
Coordinating conjunctions are helpful and easy to remember! | Source

Using Coordinating Conjunctions To Fix Comma Splices

If your clauses are closely related and you would like to keep them connected in one sentence, there are two methods you can use to do this.

First, you can join two independent clauses putting a comma followed coordinating conjunction between them. Coordinating conjunctions join two or more items of equal importance, such as words, clauses, and sentences.

The easiest way to remember the coordinating conjunctions in English is to use the mnemonic "FANBOYS."

To fix the comma splice, pick the coordinating conjunction that makes the most sense in the context of your writing and combine the clauses accordingly.

Source
Use coordinating conjunctions (FANBOYS) to fix your comma splice problem.
Use coordinating conjunctions (FANBOYS) to fix your comma splice problem. | Source

Using Semicolons To Fix Comma Splices

The other way to combine independent clauses is to use a semicolon. Use this technique when the one clause expands the meaning of the other. In our sample sentence, "it was distracting" makes more sense when we realize that "it" is the use of comma splices in her writing.

Semicolons combine sentences to help clarify meaning.
Semicolons combine sentences to help clarify meaning. | Source

Another Comma Splice Solution

If you'd still prefer to use a comma, you can always change one of your clauses from independent to subordinate. This is probably the least-used comma splice solution, but it's always nice to know what your options are.

In the example below, adding the word "because" to the first clause makes it subordinate. It no longer stands on its own and needs further explanation in order to complete the thought.

This is rarely the best solution available; semi-colons, commas with coordinating conjunctions, and separating the sentences entirely are all stronger options.

Source

To Review

Comma splices occur when a writer uses simply a comma to join two independent clauses. The easiest way to check is to separate the clauses and see if each one can stand on its own as a complete sentence. If they can, you've got a comma splice. If not, your comma use is probably appropriate.

To avoid this error, you can split your clauses into two separate sentences using a period, join the sentences using a semicolon or a coordinating conjunction and comma, or re-word your sentence so that it contains a subordinate clause and an independent clause.

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    • Steve West profile image

      Steve West 4 years ago from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

      Commas and semi's are my worst enemy hopped, and my biggest fear. I hate when I have to use them. We battle daily. Sometimes I win and sometimes I don't. This hub helped me and I will remember it. Sixteen years of school and I still have problems with punctuation. Great hub! Up and awesome.

    • StephanieBCrosby profile image

      Stephanie Bradberry 4 years ago from New Jersey

      Great tutorial and overview! I used to charged with this crime in high school and the beginning of college. Now, I am the police. It is so much easier identifying these errors in the work of others than yourself.

    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 4 years ago from Deep South, USA

      Excellent article! I'm one of those "picky" readers who stresses over comma splices, semi-colons where they aren't needed and other grammatical glitches. I've been reading with an editorial eye for so many years that it's impossible for me to read past errors without being distracted by them. Thanks for encouraging better writing.

      Voted Up, Useful, Interesting

      Jaye

    • Your Cousins profile image

      Your Cousins 4 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      This is a very informative hub. Thanks for the explanation and examples. You can always count on those FANBOYS to get you out of a writer's jam. Voted Up and Useful.

    • misslong123 profile image

      Michele Kelsey 3 years ago from Edmond, Oklahoma

      This was very useful information. I am writing a HubPage on grammar and would like to include a link to this page since I did not cover comma splices very well. Can I add your link? Thanks Michele

    • hopped profile image
      Author

      Meghan Hopper 3 years ago

      Absolutely! I'm glad you found this helpful.

    • misslong123 profile image

      Michele Kelsey 3 years ago from Edmond, Oklahoma

      Great! Thank you. The hubpage address is:

      https://hubpages.com/literature/ImproveHubpageGram...

      Hopefully we can work together to help promote each other's hubs.

      Regards,

      Michele

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