Stop using comma splices

I teach English as a Second Language, and naturally, I often see students use comma splices. That is totally understandable because writing in another language is difficult; I totally messed up pretty much every sentence I wrote in Swedish class, and I'm currently having trouble writing even super-simple sentences in my online French class (I'll blog about that at another time).

So anyone who is learning English is excused. This is for the native speakers who presumably got enough schooling to know enough grammar. (And this is also a continuation of my previous post about "However.")

I don't know why so many people use comma splices. I can understand if someone has trouble applying rules, etc., and maybe writing isn't their strong suit, but even very educated people use them.

And I'm not talking about people who are writing English creatively. Sometimes people text or write in a certain way to convey a feeling, or to sound casual. I myself (shocker) have used comma splices to express myself in a less-constrained way. But I know the rules, so I can break them to vary my writing style. And other people can break them, too. But there are those people who are not purposely doing anything; they are just messing up, and their writing has to be corrected. (See, I just successfully avoided some comma splices by using a semicolon after the first independent clause and a conjunction to connect the second and third.)

I could link to many articles or blog posts that I've read where there were numerous comma splices, but I wasn't nerdy enough to keep a list of them all (or even some of them). But that's fine, because I'm not the only one who's annoyed; in addition to the several grammarians who are complaining online, there's a nerdy guy who gets paid to write such commentary at the illustrious Financial Times, saying he's also annoyed with the situation, and mentions British Airways as one of the offenders.

Basically, here is a type of comma splice that I often see:
Please take a number, someone will be with you shortly.

"Please take a number" is a complete sentence. "Someone will be with you shortly" is another complete sentence. They each can stand alone, so they cannot be separated by a mere comma.

That is an example of businesses that are speaking to customers. So perhaps using a semicolon would seem stuffy:
Please take a number; someone will be with you shortly.

One way to get around it and still be friendly and creative would be to use a dash (which I use when I want to be in the ballpark of correctness, but not so stiff):
Please take a number--someone will be with you shortly.

Another way, which someone (a reader) recommended, is to combine them:
Please take a number and someone will be with you shortly.

But using a comma just seems wrong, and perpetuates the problem we have (at least what we uptight language folks see as a problem). It is especially egregious in academic papers, which I see if the writers haven't gotten a professional to look over their work.

Are texting and quick social media causing the decline? I can understand people who use writing to communicate with their friends or whatever, but professionals with degrees or people who make a living from communicating shouldn't violate the rule. Or they should get someone else to check their work.

But my concern will eventually seem anachronistic, because there is no governing body for English that puts forth linguistic decrees, and the language will inevitably change over time...Oxford comma, anyone?

No comments: