What Are Comma Splices
by J.C. Chute
When it comes to sentence structure, there are many rules regarding the use of commas in literature. One of the most common issues facing both beginning and experienced writers has to do with the usage of what is commonly known as a comma splice. A comma splice is defined as two independent clauses separated by a comma instead of a period or semicolon.
One of the best ways of recognizing a comma splice is noting the absence of a conjunction (such as and, but, or) joining the independent clauses together. Another way to spot them is seeing if there are two ideas joined together as parts of the same sentence, when splitting the sentence or using a semicolon would clearer.
Check out some examples of comma splices in some classic writing:
“By day the goldfinches dip in yellow light, by night the frogs sing the song that never goes out of favor.” — E.B. White, A Report in the Spring
Since comma splices are often found in famous work, we can see that not only is its usage acceptable, but that it could be a valuable tool for when a writer is seeking to vary the sentence structure of a written piece, or when it might be appropriate for the tone of the piece. According to Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style:
A comma is preferable [to a semicolon] when the clauses are very short and alike in form, or when the tone of the sentence is easy and conversational.
Comma splices are not just admissible in such instances—they’re relied upon to convey tone and set mood where other styles might fall short. The trick is in learning to recognize when devices like the comma splice will increase the impact of the written word, and when it won’t. For writers of all skill levels learning to hone their craft, practice can make such devices not only easier to spot, but easier to use with clarity and purpose.