Diagnosis: Comma Splice Fever

Unless you’re a stranger to writing papers for English courses, you have probably heard instructors talk about a pesky little error known as a comma splice. This lesson will provide one of the possible prescriptions for curing the common problem known as a comma splice.

So just what is a comma splice?

An easy way to think about a comma splice is to first consider what a run-on sentence is. A run-on, also known as a fused sentence, occurs when you link two complete sentences together without putting any punctuation in between them. Take a look at this example:

I hope the Orioles make it to the playoffs they aren’t doing very well right now.

Notice that this is two entire sentences with no punctuation separating them. What we have here, then, is a run-on sentence. Now take a look at this:

I hope the Orioles make it to the playoffs, they aren’t doing very well right now. Do you see the difference here? We have that same sentence, but the difference is that we have added a comma in between the two statements. If you think this is now a correct sentence, you are wrong. What we now have is a comma splice. Thus, the only difference between a run-on and a comma splice is the presence of a comma.

Like a run-on, a comma splice causes your ideas to run together and can impede your reader’s understanding of your paper. It is important to give effective cues so your reader comprehends precisely what you are trying to convey.

When you are joining two complete sentences together, a mere comma is not strong enough to link those sentences effectively. You need something else along with the comma. Think of it this way: Imagine that you have two perfectly good pieces of electrical wire, and you need to splice them together. You twist the wires until they’re connected, but you still need electrical tape in order to link those wires effectively–otherwise, you might get shocked! Grammatically speaking, you can add a conjunction to serve as the electrical tape to hold your two sentences together more safely–er, more effectively.

Use this mnemonic to remember the common conjunctions: FANBOYS = For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So.

Add a FANBOYS conjunction after the comma, and you have fixed the comma splice error.

Let’s try it out:

I hope the Orioles make it to the playoffs, they aren’t doing very well right now. Which of the FANBOYS do you think works best here?

Since the second statement suggests that the first statement will not happen, the word but would work great:

I hope the Orioles make it to the playoffs, but they aren’t doing very well right now.

Here’s one more example:

Comma splice error: I wanted to make margaritas, I bought a blender.

Revised sentence: I wanted to make margaritas, so I bought a blender.

Notice that in both of the examples you’ve seen here, we chose a FANBOYS that makes the most sense in the context of what we want to say. It wouldn’t make sense to say I wanted to make margaritas, but I bought a blender. The FANBOYS conjunction serves as a transition that tells your reader something about the relationship between the two sentences you are joining.

The next time you’re drafting an essay, keep this tip in mind and try it out!

The bottom line: If you want to join two complete sentences, you need more than just a comma to have a correct sentence. Add a FANBOYS to cure the comma splice ailment.

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