Comma splice (or run-on sentences)
Video: Comma Splice, by Shaun Macleod from Smrt English (new tab). (Watching time: 2m:42secs)
Shaun explains this common student error.
What's the problem with comma splices or run-on sentences?
Two independent clauses incorrectly joined together, often making them illogical or unclear.
As Shaun Macleod explains in the video, a run-on sentence is a sentence that has two complete independent clauses, but no punctuation distinguishing one clause from the other.
A comma splice however, occurs when two such clauses have been joined together with insufficient punctuation or joining words separating them. Students frequently join such sentences with a comma only (which is why they are known as a comma splice). The method you choose to fix a run-on sentence depends on the context and the meaning you intended.
Note: these examples demonstrate the problem of run-on sentences:
* We learned that song when we were in Ukestan, an old man in a laundromat hummed it to us. * Note: Asterisks mean that this sentence is poorly constructed.
* The local team is looking confident heading into the game, the home team always has the advantage. *
* Marx claimed religion was the 'opiate of the masses', I consider television does a better job of stupefying people. *
* I got home late last night, I didn't have time for dinner. *
How to fix your commas splice or run-on sentence
You can use a joining word, a semi-colon, or a full-stop.
- Use a joining word
A comma splice can quickly be fixed using a comma with a joining word (conjunction).
Marx claimed religion was the opiate of the masses, but I consider that television does a better job of stupefying people. See Commas lesson 1
- Use a semi-colon
A semi-colon is stronger than a comma and can serve to attach two independent clauses if the two clauses are closely linked by theme. (See Semicolons)
The local team is looking confident heading into the game; the home team always has the advantage.
- Use a fullstop
Fixing a comma splice by making it into two sentences
We learned that song when we were in Ukestan. An old man in a laundromat hummed it to us.
More ways to fix comma splices or run-on sentences,
Make one of the clauses dependent on the other.
- Us a dependent clause marker
A comma splice can be fixed by making one of the sentences dependent on the other, such as starting with a word that turns it from an ordinary sentence to a dependent clause, or using other grammatical changes to create the same effect.
Because I got home late last night, I didn't have time for dinner.
While Marx claimed religion was the opiate of the people, I consider that television is equally as effective at stupefying people.
The local team is looking confident heading into the game, always having the advantage being on home turf.
Remember, the choice you make will depend on the meaning you wish to convey. For example, a conjunction signals a particular type of relationship between the ideas, so you would use it when you intend that relationship.
Complete the quiz items below to see if you have understood this lesson. Then click the blue arrow at the bottom of the page to check your answers.
Instructions: Hover or tap the questions below to see the reason for the answers given in the quiz.
1. True or false.
The problem with comma splices is that they contain two stand-alone sentences, inadequately joined to make one sentence.
Why: The Grammarly blog says: "When you join two independent clauses with a comma and no conjunction, it’s called a comma splice." Comma splice by Grammarly blog. Or you can listen to Grammar Girl's comma splice explanation.
2. Choose all the options that can correct this comma splice
I've read four articles on the topic, I still don't understand what it is about.
☐ 1. I've read four articles on the topic, and I still don't understand what it's about.
☐ 2. I've read four articles on the topic: I still dont' understand what it's about.
☐ 3. I've read four articles on the topic; I still don't understan what it's about.
☐ 4. Although I've read four articles on the topic, I still don't understand what it's about.
#1 (use a conjunction) ✔ | #3 (use a semi-colon) ✔ | #4 (make one sentence dependent) ✔
Why: The strategies you can use for fixing your comma splice are to use a conjunction, a semi-colon, or a dependent clause. Another possibility not included in this quiz item is to use a full-stop and make two separate complete sentences.
3. Select the only sentence that is not a comma splice
❍ Our boss is demanding when it comes to deadlines, he is also fair.
❍ It has hardly rained all winter, I even needed to water the garden.
❍ Brussell sprouts are very good for you, although unfortunately they taste bad.
Brussell sprouts are very good for you, although unfortunately they taste bad. ✔
Why: The first two sentence have two dominant clauses joined by a comma — that is not the correct use of the comma. The final sentence has a indepentant clause and a dependant clause (signaled by "although") separated by a comma — correct.
4. Yes or no?
Any of the various methods for resolving a run-on sentence error are equally fine in any context.
Why: It depends on the meaning you intend. For example, if you use a conjunction you are introducing the embedded meaning carried by the conjunction.