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At university, it was drilled into us to avoid comma splices like the plague, but I keep seeing them in all different types of famous, best-selling novels.

I read things (all in dialogue, in inverted commas) like:

-You wouldn't like it, believe me.

-Trust me, I know what I'm taking about.

-I'm not going, I don't care what you say.

-He's a straight shooter, I'll give him that.

-I'm warning you, don't test me.

-I told you, he doesn't work on Mondays.

-Don't worry, I won't tell anyone.

I keep seeing this type of things in really well-known novels.

I know a lot of editors like to avoid using semi-colons and colons in dialogue, and wonder if this is why so many comma splices are creeping in?

Are comma splices more acceptable in dialogue than in regular text, in the way that commas can indicate pauses and so mimic more natural sounding speech?

Is there also an argument that says that commas in dialogue, even if they cause comma splices, are less distracting to the reader than a semi-colon in the middle of a sentence, which they may not fully understand or that may take away from the natural flow of the words?

I was wondering if any writers here would use comma splices in dialogue as above.

Any advice would be appreciated! Thank you.

  • Just my opinion, but I think "Trust me, I know what I'm taking about" is not a comma splice. It seems to me that "(You) trust me" is not a complete thought and is therefore a dependent clause. Same comment with "I told you, he doesn't work on Mondays." – Thom Oct 21 '15 at 12:04
  • @TheThom: "Trust me" is a complete thought - it's just tricky because it's in imperative (i.e. it's a command.), so it might not seem like it. – Hutch Dec 20 '15 at 8:53
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I wouldn't use all of them, but I'd definitely use some, and mostly for the reasons you pointed out. Dialogue doesn't have to be grammatically correct; really, it probably shouldn't be grammatically correct, most of the time (since most of the time people don't speak in grammatically correct ways).

So in dialogue, instead of using punctuation to follow grammar rules, I think it should be used to indicate the manner of speaking. So if an author is trying to represent the sort of pause that is best represented by a comma, then the author should use the comma, regardless of grammar.

For the record, of the examples you posted, I think I'd change:

"I'm not going" (probably semi-colon, maybe em-dash, maybe even a period);

and

"I'm warning you" (colon, for added drama).

The others I'd leave as commas splices. But it depends on how the author hears the words being spoken, of course.

  • Thanks so much Kate S. It's good to hear from other writers about the comma splice. I've been resisting it for so long but realize it would make my dialogue so much more natural than the semi-colons I'm currently using. Many thanks for the great answer! – MoniqueH Oct 18 '15 at 19:04
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Most of your examples could be made grammatically "correct" by adding a word (e.g. "I told you [that] he doesn't work on Mondays", but would also make the speech sound much less natural. I would say that it's perfectly fine to splice commas in dialogue. (Who knows, maybe someday it will even be considered grammatically acceptable?)

If I'm really worried about someone complaining about comma splices, I'll sometimes use a dash instead: "Don't worry -- I won't tell anyone."

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