Bright specks of fruit-flavored cereal, in various colors, showed through the plastic containers a marketing researcher lined up on the desk before me. I was in the sixth grade and I was about to take part in a product testing at my school. Thinking I could just dive into the tempting rainbow colors of the cereal, I picked up a spoon, sat down across from the researcher, and reached for a container. She quickly stopped me so that she could tell me the rules first. She explained that the samples should be tasted in a certain order and, between each one I had to take a few sips of water in order to cleanse my palate. In other words, the sips of water would act as a strong break between each variety of cereal, so that I could accurately taste and reflect on each product. In a similar manner, separate thoughts in an essay need strong breaks in between in order for readers to fully understand them. If a sentence contains two or more complete thoughts that could stand alone on their own and still make sense, a small break, such as a comma, won’t be strong enough to separate them. Using a comma between independent clauses—or complete thoughts that could stand alone on their own and still make sense—is a called a comma splice. Comma splices can be confusing to readers who have to figure out the different parts of the sentence. Fortunately, there are several ways to fix a comma splice. Here are a few options below:
1) Use a period between the complete thoughts. The easiest way to fix a comma splice is a to use a period between the independent clauses or complete thoughts that could stand alone on their own and still make sense.
Example of a Comma Splice to Fix: The elephant in the room won’t go away, it will remain there until someone does something about it.
In the example above, there are two complete thoughts that could stand alone on their own and still make sense:
A) The elephant in the room won’t go away
B) it will remain there until someone does something about it
Placing periods after each clause will fix the comma splice:
Revised: The elephant in the room won’t go away. It will remain there until someone does something about it.
2) Use a semicolon between the complete thoughts. Using a semicolon is another easy way to fix a comma splice. Semicolons can help show relationships between complete thoughts or independent clauses—as well as provide a strong break.
Example of a Comma Splice to Fix: When I moved the green leaves of the plant aside, I could see bright red strawberries, they were perfect for picking.
Revised: When I moved the green leaves of the plant aside, I could see the bright red strawberries; they were perfect for picking.
In the revised version above, the semicolon separates the two complete thoughts in this sentence. It also helps readers understand that the appearance of the strawberries leads the writer to conclude that they are ripe for picking.
3) Use a conjunction after a comma, if a complete thought follows. A conjunction is a word that can connect the parts of a sentence. Examples of conjunctions are: For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So. (Many grammar and textbooks use the acronym FANBOYS to help students remember these conjunctions.)
Example of a Comma Splice to Fix: It was raining outside, we went to the movies.
Revised: It was raining outside, so we went to the movies.
In the example above, the combination of the comma and the conjunction (so) helps readers understand the two separate thoughts. Because it was raining, we went to the movies.
The methods for revising comma splices, listed above, are only meant to be used after a draft is completed. Comma splices occur when writers try to get their thoughts down on paper and the ideas start to flow into one another. This stage of the writing process is creative and productive. Interrupting this process to look for grammar issues could lead to a draft that that might be grammatically correct, but that also lacks adequate reflection, analysis, or insight. Instead, writers could first look for opportunities to get a draft done. Later, they can go back to find the places where the breaks between could be stronger—the places where they want their readers to fully note the subtleties of each idea.