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Comma Splices

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Overview:

When two or more independent clauses occur in the same sentence, separated only by a comma, the result is an error called a comma splice. Comma splices can make your writing unclear and difficult to understand. It is important to avoid errors in your writing so that you can clearly convey your points and maintain the reader’s interest.

Comma splices are the result of two or more independent clauses joined only by a comma. Keep in mind that independent clauses contain a subject and a verb, and express a complete thought. In other words, independent clauses could be sentences on their own. A comma alone cannot separate independent clauses; they can only be joined using the appropriate punctuation and/or coordinating conjunctions.

Here are some examples of sentences with comma splices followed by correct sentences:

Comma splice: The coffee was too hot to drink, he waited ten minutes before taking the first sip.

Correct: The coffee was too hot to drink, so he waited ten minutes before taking the first sip.

Comma splice: The weather is beautiful today, I think I’ll ride my bike to the beach.

Correct: The weather is beautiful today. I think I’ll ride my bike to the beach.

Techniques for Correcting Comma Splices

The following sentences contain comma splices:

Jessica bought a new horse, she already has a horse and two dogs.

Plane tickets to Italy rose by $100 over the course of two days, Angie postponed her trip to next summer.

Separate independent clauses by adding a period and making them into two sentences

Jessica bought a new horse. She already has a horse and two dogs.

The price of plane tickets to Italy rose by $100 over the course of two days.  Angie postponed her trip to next summer.

Conjoin independent clauses using a coordinating conjunction

Jessica bought a new horse, but she already has a horse and two dogs.

The price of plane tickets to Italy rose by $100 over the course of two days, so Angie postponed her trip to next summer.

Make one independent clause dependent by adding a dependent word

Jessica bought a new horse although she already has a horse and two dogs.

Because the price of plane tickets to Italy rose by $100 over the course of two days, Angie postponed her trip to next summer.

Conjoin independent clauses using a conjunctive adverb

Jessica bought a new horse; however, she already has a horse and two dogs.

The price of plane tickets to Italy rose by $100 over the course of two days; therefore, Angie postponed her trip to next summer.

Conjoin independent clauses by adding a semicolon

Jessica bought a new horse; she already has a horse and two dogs.

Plane tickets to Italy rose by $100 over the course of two days; Angie postponed her trip to next summer.

Notice that when you join two independent clauses using a semicolon, the sentences must be closely related with similar emphases. In other words, don’t join together two independent clauses that are unrelated; the semicolon demonstrates a close relationship between the two. Also, be careful not to overuse semicolons. More than one or two semicolons in the same paragraph is probably too many.

Style Matters:

Now look at your own writing. Examine your use of commas. Are you using commas to separate two independent clauses? If so, correct those comma splices by using the techniques described here. Try using all four of the techniques to create different types of sentences. In addition to correcting the comma splices, alternating between the four correction techniques will help add variety to your sentences, making your writing more stylistically interesting.


Copyright (C) 2010. All rights reserved.
This handout is part of a library of instructional materials used in California State University, Long Beach’s writing center, the Writer’s Resource Lab. Educators and students are welcome to distribute copies as long as they do so with attribution to all organizations and authors. Commercial distribution is prohibited.