Writing tip: the comma splice

Recognizing comma-splice errors in your writing is important. What’s a comma splice? This is linking two sentences (two independent clauses) with a comma. Examples:

The current was swift, he could not swim to shore.
I like you, you’re nice.
Martha was a lonely woman, she didn’t have any friends.

What we have in these constructions is two separate independent (main) clauses—clauses that contain a subject and a verb—that express two separate thoughts. Example:

Martha was a lonely woman. She didn’t have any friends.

When you have two independent clauses in a sentence, you must write them in one of the following ways:

  • Separate them with a period so they’re treated as two complete sentences.
  • Connect them with a semicolon if the two thoughts are closely related (I like you; you’re nice.)
  • Connect them with a conjunction, which should have a comma in front of it (The current was swift, and he could not swim to shore.)

This is such a basic rule of writing that I cringe when I see a comma-spliced sentence. Where was this writer, I wonder, when his 7th-grade English teacher taught this lesson? In the john, perhaps, sneaking a smoke.

To be honest, this error also makes me prejudiced against the writer because it raises a big red flag. If the writer doesn’t know about such a simple rule, how many other grammatical sins am I going to find in this manuscript? This does not make an editor look forward to reading the rest of the book. We would rather clean the toilet.

Paul Thayer
Thayer Literary Services

Paul Thayer is a full-time professional book editor with more than 35 years of experience. During that time he worked in the trenches of the real world of writers, editors, and publishers. He uses his extensive knowledge to help writers who still have a lot to learn, offering them critiques and line editing of their work.

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