Comma splice

shower curtainI’m sure you’ve been there too: you’ve had a hard day at work followed by a strenuous workout at the gym and all you want is a nice, relaxing bath. You get in and start enjoying a bit of peace and quiet when the phone rings. You ignore it. It rings again, so you decide to get out and pick it up. This happens not twice, but three times, which leads to the following text conversation:

Bath-ruiner: You’re in the bath??!!
Me: Well I was, I got out as people are clearly intent on ruining it.
Bath-ruiner: Tee hee. (Awful comma splice in your last text, btw).

Follows a lengthy text argument on the finer points of English punctuation. Unfortunately, my “friend” was right, as was confirmed by wikipedia:

Comma splicing is the use of a comma to join two independent clauses, instead of a conjunction, semi-colon, or period. For example:
It is nearly half past five, we cannot reach town before dark.
Comma splices are generally considered errors in English, although they are acceptable in some languages, including French and German, and compulsory in others, including Russian and Ukrainian.

So, my sentence should have said “Well I was, but I got out as people were clearly intent on ruining it” (or rather “Well I was, but I got out, as people were clearly intent on ruining it”). See the wikipedia article for a handy summary of acceptable uses and corrections and the Purdue Online Writing Lab for a more complete set of guidelines for the use of the comma in English. I think French people should definitely be exempted from following this particular rule, especially in a text conversation.
Shower curtain photo by Darwin Bell.

By |2016-10-18T15:48:53+00:00March 1st, 2010|Technical corner|9 Comments

About the Author:

I am Céline Graciet, a freelance English to French translator. Since 2003 I’ve been writing on all sorts of areas linked to translation and the life of a translator.


  1. brian March 1, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    Interesting – I hadn’t realised some languages accepted “comma splicing”. It must be kind-of-acceptable in Catalan too, as I cannot seem to get through to my Catalan students (of English) that it’s not the best way to get good marks for an essay – if I’m marking!
    Most students also seem to believe that by simply using commas, a sentence may go on and on and on …. but that’s another battle!

  2. Linda March 1, 2010 at 5:51 pm

    you don’t even contemplate the semi-colon version:
    “Well I was; I got out as people are clearly intent on ruining it.” :- there is a whole movement to try save this endangered punctuation species from disappearing altogether…

  3. céline March 1, 2010 at 7:18 pm

    @brian: It really doesn’t appear so bad to my French eye, so I can imagine why your Catalan students might resist your laudable efforts.
    @Linda: Oh yes I did Linda, I’m a big fan of the semi-colon, I just gave one example. A full stop would have worked too.

  4. brian March 1, 2010 at 9:47 pm

    By the way, after rushing off my earlier comment, I realised that however Big the problem may seem to me, it’s not worth ruining a good bath over! Hope you made that clear to your caller!

  5. Elizabeth March 3, 2010 at 1:24 pm

    I didn’t know comma splices were compulsory in Russian. They drive me nuts.

  6. Joshua March 16, 2010 at 11:43 am

    Yes, the comma splicing here in Sweden drives me crazy. Every time I see one I get a strong urge to change the comma to a full stop and capitalize the first letter of the next word.
    Originally I just thought that Swedes had really bad grammar habits… until I read a Swedish grammar book and realized that “satsradning” is completely permitted.
    And don’t even get me started on the ubiquitous comma splicing in Chinese. Sometimes an entire paragraph can be just one huge comma-spliced sentence (and with most of the subjects omitted, just to make it even harder to translate).

  7. Bela March 20, 2010 at 5:11 am

    I detest comma splicing: it looks horrible and doesn’t make sense grammatically.
    However, what drives me even more nuts is the absence of a comma before or after a vocative. It leads to nonsense like this:
    Fanny: ‘Hey, I heard Madonna was in the area today.’
    Marius: ‘Oh, did you see her Fanny?’
    Someone is guilty of this, up there. LOL!

  8. céline March 22, 2010 at 11:30 am

    My goodness. This blog must be littered with comma splices, I hope I haven’t upset too many people over the years…

  9. Bela March 24, 2010 at 4:36 pm

    The commma before and after a vocative has nothing to do with comma splicing.
    There’s a heading in today’s London Standard that reads: ‘Stuff this sarge, I can see how you earned your stripes.’ It’s some story about a Detective Sergeant and a stuffed tiger.
    ‘Stuff this sarge…’ What? ‘This sarge’ as opposed to ‘that sarge’?
    Complete nonsense without a comma before ‘sarge’. Grammar (punctuation being part of it) is there to make things intelligible, not confusing or idiotic.

Comments are closed.