We're venturing into a realm where writers bend the rules of grammar in the name of creativity, much to the frustration of editors. What is a comma splice and how can you fix it? Take a look at today's article.

What is a comma splice?

What Is a Comma Splice?

It pains me to write this, but here is a comma splice in action:

Louis stomped the accelerator into the floor of the car, his pursuer's headlights shone in his rear-view mirror.

What's missing from that sentence?

If you were annoyed by the lack of a conjunction, then congratulations! You found the comma splice. Notice how the comma in the sentence could be a period—meaning each clause is an independent sentence and could stand alone.

If you want them together in a single sentence, then you need a little more than a single comma. You need a coordinating conjunction with the comma or take the comma out and use a semicolon.

How to Fix a Comma Splice

Let me show you some examples to easily fix this grammatical error. If you don't want to separate sentences, use a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, etc.) to connect the two clauses.

Louis stomped the accelerator into the floor of the car, and his pursuer's headlights shone in his rear-view mirror.

See? Much better. Or if you wanted to get fancy, you could add a semicolon to the sentence.

Louis stomped the accelerator into the floor of the car; his pursuer's headlights shone in his rear-view mirror.

And finally, if your head is spinning from my use of the words “conjunction” and “semicolon,” just make two good sentences out of one bad one.

Louis stomped the accelerator into the floor of his car. His pursuer's headlights shone in his rear-view mirror.

When you have three other perfectly acceptable and grammatically correct methods of writing a sentence (or two), there is no excuse for a comma splice.

Is It Ever Okay to Use a Comma Splice?

For those who plead the case for creative use of structure and punctuation, I understand where you are coming from.

However, as Grammar Girl so eloquently states in her blog condemning the comma splice, you are not Cormac McCarthy.

Do not arbitrarily throw the rules of grammar to the wind. Believe it or not, people pay attention to those things and proper punctuation matters in publication.

How do you feel about comma splices? Let us know in the comments.


Joe here: Liz couldn't think of a writing exercise for today and assigned me the job. This was a mistake.

While Liz loves grammatical rules, I love to stretch them to their breaking point (and often beyond). So today, I'd like you to write your practice in one extremely long, comma-splice-free sentence. I'll show you:

Comma splices are bad, and you should never use them as Liz has so snarkily shown us, however, if you are, in fact, Cormac McCarthy, and you want to use the comma splice, you still shouldn't do it because Liz says so, but…

You get the gist, right? Fifteen minutes… go!

Prompt: Bill and Julie got into an argument at their favorite restaurant.

Share your practice in the Pro workshop here (for Pro members!) and if you haven't joined us yet, check it out here.

Liz Bureman has a more-than-healthy interest in proper grammatical structure, accurate spelling, and the underappreciated semicolon. When she's not diagramming sentences and reading blogs about how terribly written the Twilight series is, she edits for the Write Practice, causes trouble in Denver, and plays guitar very slowly and poorly. You can follow her on Twitter (@epbure), where she tweets more about music of the mid-90s than writing.

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