I’ve been asked so many questions about commas that I have a little section about the curly little blighters at each workshop.
One thing we look at is the comma splice. Now I didn’t know that this grammatical faux pas even had a posh name until about a year ago. I just knew that when I read a piece of copy containing a comma splice (and I have read many), it felt so wrong it made me want to cry. I always tell this to people at my workshops but they never seem to quite believe me.
I’m serious. When I see a comma splice, I feel a little knot grow in my stomach and (if it’s a document I’m working on for a company) I have to edit it out very quickly. I then take a number of deep breaths before I can carry on.
Even misused apostrophes don’t have that effect on me, so you can see why I am so keen to kill the comma splice stone dead.
A comma splice is where you use a comma to splice together two independent clauses – ie two clauses that make sense on their own.
Here’s an example. (I’ll try to hold back the tears).
I wore a pink bikini on the beach, the yellow one attracted flies and wasps.
The above sentence could be divided into two separate sentences – I wore a pink bikini on the beach. The yellow one attracted flies and wasps. The two clauses could be joined with a semi-colon – I wore a pink bikini on the beach; the yellow one attracted flies and wasps. A third way to change the sentence is to use a connective (a joining word). I wore a pink bikini on the beach because the yellow one attracted flies and wasps.
But you can’t use a comma to link the two clauses together because that just isn’t a comma’s job.