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Are comma splices always wrong?
17. February 2019 at 09:15
Comma splices, one of the most frequent mistakes in English and a horrid sight to any English teacher out there. However, very few are aware that there are types of comma splices that are perfectly acceptable.

Before proceeding to explain when the usage of a comma splice is acceptable, let’s first define what a comma splice is. A comma splice occurs when attempting to join two independent clauses using a comma. For example, consider the following sentence:

“Tom is such a thoughtful guy, he cares a lot about other people.”

The two clauses above can stand by themselves as complete sentences, and thus they cannot be joined with a comma. Instead, they may be joined using a coordinator (and, but, or, nor, yet, and so), or separated using some form of end-stop punctuation (a period, semicolon, exclamation mark, etc.)

Because of this, almost everyone has the wrong impression that the “avoid any comma splice” rule is one that must be slavishly obeyed. But that isn’t true at all. In fact, a comma splice is sometimes the best choice available. Barbara Wallraff, a contributing editor at The Atlantic Monthly and the author of the national best-seller Word Court and Your Own Words, made a wonderful remark regarding this issue:

“It’s not a comet, it’s a meteor,” Barbara comments, “Punctuating this sentence with a semicolon would be like using a C-clamp to hold a sandwich together.” Comma splices have been found in many edited texts. One such example is the famous opening line of A Tale of Two Cities, the historical novel by Charles Dickens:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

That was just proof that even the greatest writers sometimes break some grammar rules. There are times, then, when a comma splice is a perfectly acceptable stylistic device, not an error. The following are three cases when a comma splice is usually acceptable:

(1) The two independent clauses are very short.

Example: The very famous quote by Julius Caesar: “I came, I saw, I conquered”

(2) The two independent clauses are fairly short and contrast each other.

Examples: “Some people like eating meat, others don’t.”

“It’s not me who did it, It’s him!”

(3) The context is informal.

Using comma splices in fiction and informal writing is fine, but using them in formal writing such as official reports and research papers is often not. Despite all this, it is better to avoid a comma splice and just restructure the sentence. The reason is that there are many teachers, editors, and readers who do not understand this issue well enough and will defend the “avoid any comma splice” rule with their lives. In addition, comma splices are not well taken when you are not that famous an author. “[O]nly do it if you’re famous,” Lynne Truss, an English author, journalist, and novelist warns.

Cite This Article As: Mohamed Emad. "Are comma splices always wrong?." International Youth Journal, 17. February 2019.

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