The Comma Splice—Basically stated, a comma splice is any instance where a comma is placed between two independent clauses without a conjunction to accompany it.
Ex. We were going to lie on the beach today, it rained, we couldn’t go.
Imagine a period at the end of clause 1 in place of the comma. Does it work as a stand-alone sentence? Asking this question is usually a good way to test a clause to see if it is a complete sentence. Do the same with clause 2 and 3.
I’ve used a lengthy compound sentence in this example to show that sentences with comma splices are different than a list. The example above is not a list of events. Each clause functions as a complete sentence when separated from the comma and other portion of the sentence. This means there is a comma splice.
There are two options for fixing comma splices.
In order to leave the comma, a conjunction must be added.
Ex. We were going to lie on the beach today, but it rained, and we couldn’t go.
In order to leave out the conjunctions, a semicolon must be added in place of the comma.
Ex. We were going to lie on the beach today; it rained; we couldn’t go.
Now, the example above is not the most conventional use of the semicolon. You generally find them in compound sentences with two clauses. However, there is no rule about using them as shown, especially if the goal is to set your writing apart stylistically.
For examples of (almost excessive, but effective) stylistic use of the semicolon and comma, check out Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Sunflower Sutra.” For more specific discussion about comma splices, semicolons, and other grammar concepts, I recommend Martha Kolln and Loretta Gray’s book Rhetorical Grammar: Grammatical Choices, Rhetorical Effects (6th or 7th edition).