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