Why Writers Should Avoid Comma Splices

Should you avoid comma splices? Fiction writers often think that comma splices aren’t a big deal. 

I recently ran across an excellent post by Yasmin Yarwood on LinkedIn where she used excellent examples to explain comma splices.  Based on the responses, people either didn’t know what a comma splice is, did know but had never heard the phrase, or thought it wasn’t a big deal, especially for writers of fiction.

I disagree.  I think of punctuation marks as road signs that help the reader navigate through the text.  Without those road signs, readers are likely to feel lost and confused.

To create a comma splice, I need to connect two sentences with a comma.  I would write this:

Yasmin Yarwood had an excellent post the other day, she used excellent examples to explain comma splices.

So what is wrong with comma splices?  And why should they be avoided?

Here’s why.

A comma signals there is a connection between the two ideas, but without some kind of signal word (conjunction), the reader doesn’t know if the ideas are equal or if one is more important.  If I use the word “and,” then both ideas are equal.  However, if I use “where,” I am saying the most important idea in the sentence is that the post is excellent.

Does a reader always analyze sentences to that level?  Of course not.  We don’t think about how our internet works until it doesn’t (or until we see the bill).

Fiction writers often feel like they can use comma splices and break other punctuation rules to achieve certain effects, but they need to do so carefully.  Why?

Readers will notice if the effect falls flat. So we recommend you avoid comma splices as much as possible.

However, there are ways to get around the comma splice rule.  A simple method is to turn a comma splice into items of a series, which is essentially a list of three or more ideas.  This is a comma splice:

I went to the store, they didn’t have lima beans.



But three independent clauses joined together are no longer a comma splice.  Instead, you have created a list of actions:

“I ran to the store, they didn’t have lima beans, so I went to my grandmother’s house.  She always cooks lima beans.”

A person who speaks hurriedly wouldn’t speak like this anyway:

“I ran to the store, I couldn’t find any lima beans.”

They would say:

“I ran to the store, couldn’t find any lima beans, and drove to Grandma’s house.”

Or they might speak like this–a series of sentences with implied subjects:

“I ran to the store.  Couldn’t find any lima beans.  Drove to Grandma’s house, and she had some.”

 

Another way to get around creating comma splices is to create a series of sentences with implied subjects:

“I ran to the store.  Couldn’t find any lima beans.  Drove to Grandma’s house, and she had some.”

We agree that writers sometimes break rules knowingly, but they do so sparingly. Try to work around the rule so you can avoid comma splices unless absolutely necessary.

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