Sunday, 29 September 2013

Comma Splice: A Spaghetti Western

A sentence is only big enough for the one sentence...

When two clauses can be written as two different sentences and you’ve used a comma instead of full stop, there's a 90% chance you've made an error. Whether it’s in dialogue or not is irrelevant.

I ate an orange, it was nice.

This is no good, my friend – no good at all. There are two complete clauses. They may feel somewhat linked but that doesn't mean it is okay to splice them together with a comma. The fix is so simple too:

I ate an orange. It was nice.

That’s usually the intended structure, but it’s not the only way you can fix it. Take a look at this fancy range of comma splice fixes I have to offer you today:

* Use a semicolon instead. Only do this when there's an implied link between the two sentences.

* Why not throw in a coordinating conjunction? These short and simple words can link your independent clauses together, keeping your comma intact (it will still need the comma). Examples are for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so.

*Reword the sentence so that the second clause is incomplete. Then it has to rely on that previous clause to make sense. Shuffle the order around and jiggle a few of the words.

*Turn the second verb into an ‘ing’. ‘I ran down the stairs, I brushed my hair’ turns into ‘I ran down the stairs, brushing my hair’.

*Condense the ideas into one so you’d get ‘I ate a nice orange’.

Okay. I'll admit: my ideas are running thin and my title is very tenuously linked, so I’ll stop there. Some of these suggestions change the specifics of what’s happening, so make sure you’re still conveying what you originally wanted to convey.

I’m open to more suggestions if anyone has any. For now, just don’t join two complete clauses using only a comma. Just don’t.