How to Avoid Comma Splices

How to Avoid Comma Splices

Let’s be honest and acknowledge that commas can be a bit tricky sometimes.

Start by remembering that every complete sentence needs two things:

  1.  A subject.
  2. A verb.

When you have a complete sentence, you have an independent clause. Generally, each independent clause must stand on its own and have its own punctuation. So while there are many rules about using commas, there is a hard-and-fast rule for when you should never use a comma: You can never combine two independent clauses with a comma alone.

Consider these two independent clauses:

Long-time fans of sports teams develop an emotional attachment to their team.

Sports fans can experience depression after losing a game.

These two sentences may be combined because they cover the same topic, and the second sentence is an extension of the thought expressed in the first sentence. Consider this combination:

Long-time fans of sports teams develop an emotional attachment to their team, sports fans can experience depression after losing a game. (Incorrect!)

The comma separates the two sentences, but the hard and fast rule says that we cannot combine two independent clauses with a comma. Both portions of the sentence contain a complete noun phrase and a complete verb phrase. While it would not be correct to combine them with a comma, there are several options for combining the two sentences.

Use a Period

In the first example, each sentence had its own period. This is perfectly fine. It doesn’t combine the sentences, but it keeps you in the clear from creating a comma splice. When in doubt, separate two sentences with a period.

Use a Semicolon

You can use a semicolon to combine two independent clauses without any additional changes. This sentence is correct:

Long-time fans of sports teams develop an emotional attachment to their team; sports fans can experience depression after losing a game.

Use a Semicolon, a Conjunction, and a Comma

Another option for using the semicolon is to add a conjunction and a comma to the second sentence. This may improve the flow of the ‌sentence, create a contrast, or indicate an additional idea. This sentence is also correct:

Long-time fans of sports teams develop an emotional attachment to their team; moreover, sports fans can experience depression after losing a game.

‌In this example, “moreover” indicates that there is an additional idea to consider that is closely related to the idea presented in the first independent clause.

Use a Colon

When your second sentence continues or explains the thought in the first sentence, a colon may also be appropriate to combine two independent clauses. This is another correct variation:

Long-time fans of sports teams develop an emotional attachment to their team: sports fans can experience depression after losing a game.

Use a Comma and a Conjunction

A comma is an appropriate way to combine two independent clauses if you include a conjunction. The most common conjunctions are represented in the acronym FANBOYS - for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so. Consider the meaning of each and choose one that best fits the combination of the two independent clauses. Here is one last correct combination:

Long-time fans of sports teams develop an emotional attachment to their team, and sports fans can experience depression after losing a team.

Commas can be tricky, but as you proofread always check the portion of the sentence on either side of the comma. If both portions are independent clauses, you can use one of these methods to edit your work.

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