So here's the deal with comma splices.
If you're of a certain age, or just fabulously hip, you're aware of how back in
the day--way back in the day, for many of us—audiovisual productions were recorded on long strips of media, either magnetic tape (for music or video) or film (pour le cinéma).
You're no doubt also aware that when something needed to be edited out or edited in or rearranged, whatever, the magnetic tape or film was cut apart and rejoined as necessary until it matched the producer's or director's grand vision—the final cut, ready for public consumption.
And you likely know that this cutting apart and putting back together was called "splicing." (Spoiler alert: If the splicing was done poorly or with weak adhesive, the magnetic tape or film would break when played. This tidbit will be jaw-droppingly important several sentences from now.)
I hear you: "Fine, thanks so much for the condescending history-of-media lesson. But what does this have to do with commas?!?" Calm yourself, Grasshopper, and regain your focus, perhaps with a bit of waxing on and waxing off. I shall provide the answer forthwith.
In short, methinks we have committed a metaphor.
In long, when we have two solid, upstanding sentences—independent clauses, non-fragments, subject-predicate perfection, model citizens of their industrious paragraph society—that we wish to combine for reasons aesthetic or otherwise, they must be joined with appropriate adhesive, which is all well and good and civically responsible.
The problem is this: Commas are extremely weak adhesive.
See how that spoiler alert paid off? If you listen hard enough, you can hear puny little comma splices popping apart somewhere. Listen with me.... There. And there. Oh, and right there, in that otherwise brilliant essay that just lost serious points. Ouch.
Okay, brace for explanation: A comma flying solo just doesn't sport the grammatical chops, not to mention the raw moxie, necessary to connect two complete sentences. Working alone, its main job, its raison d'être—among various other specialized gigs—is to join an independent clause (a complete sentence) to a dependent clause (a sentence fragment).
A lone comma, without reinforcements, cannot join two complete sentences. It can't. It just can't. Ever. Never Ever.
Do not employ ill-suited punctuation and thereby rend asunder the venerable gates that for endless ages have restrained Chaos and Anarchy.
Okay, so what's the solution? Well, you always can substitute our old buddy the period, sturdy and reliable, if not glamorous. It gets the job done admirably.
Then there are the seven coordinating conjunctions (and, or, for, nor, but, so, yet). If you feel inspired to keep the comma, and quite often you certainly should, calling in one of these wee but surprisingly powerful workhorses as backup and placing it just after the offending comma provides enough additional adhesive to hold your sentences together quite nicely.
But variety is the spice of life, right? And if you want to spice up your life—well, your writing, at least—with some instant glamour, consider the logically lovely semicolon. Its purpose is contained within its intricate structure: a period perched comfortably, perhaps a bit imperiously (but justifiably so), on top of a comma. It's more than a comma, but less than a period. It's in possession of the necessary grammatical glue that the comma by itself lacks.
And as if that weren't enough, the semicolon is a multitasker, too. Simultaneously, and with stunning style, it separates your two sentences decisively (like a period) while emphasizing that they nevertheless have something in common (like a comma). You can see why the talented semicolon is appropriately named: its behavior is similar to, but subtler than, its somewhat pushier big-city cousin the colon.
Here's an example of a glorious (dare I say sexy?) semicolon in action:
And for comparison, here's a comma splice, its feeble inadequacy on public display:
(I regret I had to do that to you, dear comma. I hope you understand it was for a good cause.)
Bonus pro tip: If you like, and sometimes you will like, you can incorporate a suave conjunctive adverb with your semicolon to clarify the logical connection between your sentences. Conjunctive adverbs are those charming connectors such as however, therefore, nevertheless, consequently, furthermore, instead . . . you get the idea. But hey, you can’t just toss it in there like any old run-of-the-mill lexeme. A conjunctive adverb’s gotta have standards, you know? And in this case, the standard dictates that we must include our loyal comrade the comma immediately after the conjunctive adverb. Here’s an example:
Semicolons and commas teaming up to make the world a better place. Thank you, guys.
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