We're venturing into a realm where writers bend the rules of grammar in the name of creativity, but to the great frustration of editors. A comma splice is one of the most easily avoidable grammatical travesties.
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 win at grammar.
Why You Shouldn't EVER Use a Comma Splice
A comma splice occurs when a writer uses a comma by itself to connect two independent clauses, and speaking from an editorial perspective, I will tell you that they are evil.
Joe can attest to the fact that they're one of my biggest pet peeves.
So in order to prevent your writing from getting on an editor's (or an astute reader's) nerves, I will tell you now: DO NOT USE COMMA SPLICES.
How to Fix a Comma Splice
Instead, use a coordinating conjunction (and, but, as, or, etc.) to connect the two clauses.
Louis stomped the accelerator into the floor of the car as 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.
How do you feel about comma splices?
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!
WRITING PROMPT: Bill and Julie got into an argument at their favorite restaurant.
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.