1. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    Punctuation Are Comma Splices Always Evil?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Catrin Lewis, Nov 1, 2015.

    Yes, I know it's important to use commas and other punctuation correctly. As a schoolteacher, sometimes I'm in the position of making sure other people use it correctly. But my latest beta-reader has flagged a few places in my manuscript where I perpetrate comma splices, and . . .

    Yes, officially they're wrong. But somehow I can't make them go away--- or I just don't want them to.

    They're always in direct or indirect speech. In one case the speaker is an 11-year-old boy; in the other it's the same character as a grown man who's just averted the murder of someone he cares deeply about. I want his speech (or the narration through his POV) to be run-on and helter-skelter. I don't want it all chopped up and halty with periods. And semicolons strike me as way too urbane and self-controlled for these scenes.

    Maybe I'm looking for pardon for a sin I'm still committing. But has anyone seen comma splices used in an effective way in a published work? If I leave them in I want the reader to understand they were there on purpose, not because I was too stupid to know better.
     
  2. Imaginarily
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    Imaginarily Disparu en Mer Contributor

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    @Tenderiser likes to yell at me for my commas and semicolons. :whistle:

    I feel like they're a part of my rhythm, though, rather than just the technical rules: "you should use this here instead of that." I'm finding it difficult to make the changes that are being suggested, I feel like it would interrupt my flow.

    As for published works, well. I dunno, I don't read much. Don't beat me up?
     
  3. xanadu
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    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    When it comes to speech, writers tend to throw the rulebook out the window. People don't speak in proper English with proper punctuation. And there's no need to force them to.

    But even in narration I think there's often room to be lenient with grammar rules. Hell, if I had to pay a fine for every fragment I use, I'd be broke (even just from this post fer cryin out loud). Comma splices are different from fragments, of course, and might be a little more awkward in narration, but that's beside the point. Point is, in fiction you have a lot of leeway. Especially if you're doing more experimental things. Even if you're just using first person narration, you might find cause to break some grammar rules.

    All that being said, you do want to strive for clarity unless you're being intentionally vague or ambiguous. If someone's confused, or if it just doesn't read right, then you may have a problem. But if it's just part of your style and it doesn't hurt the readability of the piece, and it adds the effect you're looking for, I don't think you have anything to worry about.

    Just my two pennies as a grammar rule-breaker myself.
     
  4. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    What's a comma splice? Too late at night to look it up forumites want to know. :)
     
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  5. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    Mashing together two independent clauses with a comma instead of a semicolon.
     
  6. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Not quite. It's mashing together two independent clauses with a comma.

    Normally you 'fix' this error by using a period, OR stick them together with a conjunction instead. A semicolon can also be used, if the two thoughts are closely connected, and the first one is incomplete without the second. An over-use of semicolons does call attention to itself, however, at least in modern writing.

    I think if you know what you're doing, you can probably get away with using comma splices in dialogue, if you are illustrating an unusual run-on flood of words. However, I would not ever use them in narrative. They really do jump out as being 'wrong.'

    When in doubt, have somebody who has not seen your work yet read the passages out loud, and judge if the pause engendered by the comma is what you intended. More often than not, an experienced reader will assume that a comma means a clause will follow and their voice will be adjusted for it. When it turns out to be a full sentence instead, they trip up a bit.

    I agree about a semicolon, though. I would never use one in dialogue. People don't really speak like that, do they? Unless they are making a formal speech on a podium? This isn't a rule, though, just my own preference.
     
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2015
  7. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Last edited: Nov 1, 2015
  8. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    They bug me. A lot. And I will always see them as a mistake. But most readers don't understand how to use commas so they probably won't notice them, or something will feel a little off but they won't know what it is. If you're aiming for traditional publishing I can't imagine an editor leaving them in.

    In reality, including comma splices is only going to turn off a small percentage of readers. But why would you want to turn any readers off with a deliberate error?
     
  9. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I can't justify it, but comma splices bug me a lot more than sentence fragments do, so they're more likely to pull me out of the narrative than sentence fragments are.

    That said, if you're writing with a stylized narrative voice, I think you can bend some rules in order to maintain the style. Do you have an excerpt you could post that would show how you're using them?
     
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  10. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Uff... :bigconfused: I'll never ask you for a beta read. I have a known addiction to sentence fragments. I'm aware of it. I'm trying to clean up and get straight. :whistle: It's hard, though. :-D I go back through my work and find them used for ham-fisted dramatic effect and it's like talking to that one friend you have who's addicted to the dramatic pause. One day, you will slap him. :bigeek:

    Comma splices bug. Seriously. No one has to agree with me, but I do not personally see justification in the "rhythm" argument. That kind of micromanagement is, to me, manhandling the reader.
     
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  11. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    Write artistically not academically.
     
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  12. Bookster
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    Bookster Banned

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    Wrong. Wrong. Always wrong.
     
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  13. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    I can't help but think, throw the rule book out of the window on this one and go with the flow. Especially in the dialogue bit. No one speaks 'properly' these days so to make your characters do it, would make them more un-real. IMHO.

    Also, I know beta/test readers are there for a reason but I can almost guarantee you, that no regular reader will read your book and then write a review in which they cite your comma splices as the main reason they couldn't finish it or didn't like it.

    People, languages, writing, all evolve over the years and authors should be no different. Technical abilities are very important to an author, but so is flow, dialogue, feeling, and the ability to tell a good story.

    By all means, know the rules, understand the rules, and then break them. Every God-damned one of them!

    :superwink::superidea:
     
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  14. Aled James Taylor
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    Aled James Taylor Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm using Word. This underlines, with a wiggly green line, grammatical errors. It doesn't underline comma splices, so how serious an error can it be?
     
  15. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Good point. Trust Word, absolutely. No problems can come from that. :)
     
  16. Kingtype
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    Kingtype Always writing or thinking things XD Staff Role Play Moderator Contributor

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    I don't think so.

    It all depends on how you write but I think its very important everyone still has a proper grasp of how to use semicolons and commas before you break the rules. Ya know? The old term, learn the rules so you can break them correctly and or interesting ways.

    And there are plenty of writers that do very really amazing stuff with fragments, splices and all sorts of things. I myself prefer not do comma splices but I'd been doing it so long cause I didn't know the proper rules.

    So I had to re-educate myself to use the semicolon better which I still flub up with but nothing some edits can't fix if I see them or someone points it out. But I'd love to try something bizzare or crazy with the text or something. I think it can be cool! :) But like I said make sure to have a very very very good grasp of the rules, I think that goes for for a lot of writing. You learn the rules to break them properly.

    Now with that said.

     
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  17. Bookster
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    Bookster Banned

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    I would. I would assume the author didn't know that such usage is unacceptable, and I would expect other story-ruining errors later. I don't think of myself as a pedant, but I can't think of a single example where a run-on sentence added anything to the narrative.

    This "It's my story, and I'll break the rules if I want to." stuff is fine as long as your creation stays on your hard drive. If you want others to read and enjoy it (not to say publish it) I think it's best to stick to standard usage, all the Joycian and Pynchonian examples to the contrary I'm sure are coming notwithstanding. To paraphrase a former US president, "It's the reader, stupid."
     
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  18. Imaginarily
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    Imaginarily Disparu en Mer Contributor

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    Working on it! :-D :write:
     
  19. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    This is a comma splice, it requires a comma to join the independent clauses in order for the eponymous name to make sense.

    This is a run-on sentence it requires nothing to join the independent clauses erroneously.


    Someone's bound to ask the difference between the two. :whistle:
     
  20. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    Well I wouldn't.

    When was the last time you read a review which said "too many comma splices. I couldn't finish the story ..."

    Firstly, I never called anyone a pedant and secondly, I did say "almost guarantee".

    https://stancarey.wordpress.com/2010/04/29/oh-the-splices-youll-see/
     
  21. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I don't think a thing like a couple of comma splices would "kill a book", certainly. I have a personal vendetta against stranded propositions, old fuddy-duddy that I am, and yet I adore Clive Barker. Read his stuff. The way he strands propositions, you'd think he knew me personally and was writing these books just to eff with me. :wtf: :-D
     
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  22. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    I don't leave many reviews but I do delete books as soon as there are too many errors for me to get lost in it. Comma splices are one of the most common errors I see that pull me out of the narrative.
     
  23. Imaginarily
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    Imaginarily Disparu en Mer Contributor

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    But @Tenderiser, how will you know what happens to Jack if you delete/incinerate my book? :bigeek:
     
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  24. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    Yours is strong enough to keep me going, don't you worry. :D
     
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  25. Imaginarily
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    Imaginarily Disparu en Mer Contributor

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    Oh good.

    *keeps writing grammatically incorrectly* :write:
     
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