This Is One Job That a Comma Can’t Handle: The Comma Splice

If you’re a doctor, lawyer, or other skilled professional who is “moonlighting” as a writer for your business website, you are relearning skills you probably haven’t practiced much since your college days. At the beginning, your work was tentative. Your sentences were short and larded with statistics.

After several months of practice, you’ve gained confidence. Your writing is much more lively and engaging, and you are using a richer, more dynamic vocabulary. Your personality has begun to color the text. And you almost never write a simple sentence anymore. Some of your sentences have become so long and complex that they become one-sentence paragraphs.

That’s nothing to be embarrassed about; almost all writers follow a similar progression. As you awaken new compositional skills, your work becomes more “writerly”—more technically proficient and more engaged in the art of writing. It’s only natural, then, that when you see a pair of simple sentences, you want to duct-tape them together and set them loose again.

Here’s the trouble: you’re doing it wrong.

Meet the Independent Clause

What we have been calling a “simple sentence” is known as an independent clause to grammar experts. It’s a basic combination of a noun phrase and verb phrase that is complete in itself, expresses a whole thought, and is able to stand alone as a sentence. Sure, it can be tarted up with adjectives and adverbs and prepositional phrases, but the fundamentally simple duo of noun phrase + verb phrase marks an independent clause.

Here are some examples:

  • Frogs croaked in the moonlight.
  • Mr. Jones complained about his sore left foot.
  • Elaine and her mother ate dinner in silence.

There is also another variety of clause, called the dependent clause or subordinate clause. It also is built from a noun phrase and verb phrase, but it has one or more additional words too. Those extra words make it impossible for the dependent clause to function as a sentence. It doesn’t express a complete idea, but instead is waiting for something else to finish the thought.

Some examples of dependent clauses:

  • After the thunderstorm passed
  • Although it had been amputated ten years earlier
  • Because they had quarreled while cooking the beans and wieners

Developing writers learn quickly that it only takes a comma to connect a dependent clause to an independent clause. The result is a whole new sentence that is more meaningful than either of its parts. For example:

  • After the thunderstorm passed, frogs croaked in the moonlight.
  • Mr. Jones complained about his sore left foot, although it had been amputated ten years earlier.
  • Because they had quarreled while cooking the beans and wieners, Elaine and her mother ate dinner in silence.

The Comma Splice

Problems arise when the writer uses a comma to jam together two independent clauses. The comma doesn’t work that way. The result, called a comma splice, is not a valid sentence. Here are some examples from real-world webpages:

  • Don’t get left behind, succeed with social media.
  • This summer is going to be a hot one, make sure your friends and family stay safe poolside.
  • Always be aware of your surroundings whether you’re on a bike or in a car, not only will this help reduce accidents it’s also a legal requirement for bikes and cars alike.

Developing writers fall into the habit of using the comma splice to add length—and, they hope, depth and emotional resonance—to their web content. Unfortunately, stringing small sentences together too often undermines the artistry of writing good website content. Sentences get longer, but not better.

Three Ways to Avoid the Comma Splice

English provides many pathways to get to a desired destination. If you find yourself falling into the habit of using the comma splice to build ungrammatical and unwieldy sentences, you have three easy options at your fingertips:

  • Build a compound sentence. Join the two independent clauses with a conjunction—usually “and”—and a comma. Example: Our law firm clients are uniformly satisfied with our services, and they often hug our attorneys vigorously.
  • Use a semicolon. The semicolon has only two basic functions, and joining two simple sentences is one of them. Example: Wanda worked as a nurse for only six years; work-related back pain left her disabled at an early age.
  • Keep the two sentences separate. Bigger isn’t always best; short sentences can have amazing punch. Variety in sentence length throughout you work can help retain your readers’ attention.

Learning to produce dynamic content for your professional website takes time, but the investment can produce rich payoffs down the road. Foster Web Marketing can show you the way toward producing your own work for online publication, or can supply premium-quality content crafted to your specific business needs. Best of all, we can help avoid the embarrassment of a grammatical blunder that will leave your competitors laughing. Call us today to see what we can offer you.

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