comma splice (run-on clauses)

Wed Jan 24 20:05:30 UTC 2001

You're right about the semi-colon.  The semantic relationship
between the clauses is really their content and context.  In
"Sammy ate five green apples; he got a belly ache" the second
clause is a consequence, not a cause.  In "The town conserved
water; the reservoir ran dry" the first clause has a concessive
meaning.  This is a set of facts that neither traditional grammar
nor formalist syntax handles well.  The fact that one clause may
function subordinately to the other seems to violate the meaning
of the semicolon or of "and" if that is used.  But in a sentence
like "He ate five green apples(;/, and) Sammy got a belly ache",
where "he" refers cataphorically to "Sammy", the cataphoric
reference of "he" is something normally found only in subordinate
clauses and a few other structures, so the pragmatics forces a
subordinate interpretation on what is otherwise syntactically


>>> flanigan at OAK.CATS.OHIOU.EDU 01/24/01 02:31PM >>>
As an old comp teacher (now I occasionally teach the teaching of
writing in
ESL), I was a stickler for the semi-colon--not prescriptively,
but because
it should, and when used correctly does, mark in print the very
pauses and
intonation changes you mention.  This half-pause helps in fast
and accurate
reading (=decoding), so that one doesn't have to backtrack and
readjust the parsing of the sentence.  Conjunctions can
substitute, of
course, but sometimes a pause alone is sufficient, as in the
sentence cited
below; yet I still want a clear signal of the degree of pausing
intonational rise) that would presumably be marked in speech, and
semi-colon provides that (a period is a bit too definite).
my grad students (and many colleagues!) seem not to have ever
heard this
rationale and think I'm just being "fussy."

At 01:11 PM 1/24/01 -0500, you wrote:
>This sort of error is as common as it is because English
>punctuation does not allow us to mark something that speech
>very nicely.  If you say this sentence with the because
>you will probably have normal declarative sentence intonation
>a slight rise on the end of "now", and then the second clause
>be in a generally lower intonation, indicating that its content
>presupposed to be true.  The content will then invite the
>interpretation.  We do this a lot in speech.  However, writing
>doesn't mark intonation so efficiently, and so we can't do it
>writing.  I think that students--and the rest of us--who write
>sentences like the one question are trying to express just that
>presuppositional relationship, not realizing that English
>punctuation can't handle that meaning.  That's what makes the
>comma splice such a problem in English.  As speakers we feel we
>ought to be able to write things like that.  As writers, we
>that we can't and after a while stop trying to.
>Herb Stahlke
> >>> pulliam at IIT.EDU 01/24/01 02:27AM >>>
>Does it seem to anyone else that the type of "comma splice"
>exemplified in
>"We can probably wait on the software for now, I don't think it
>be a problem."
>(where the comma takes the place of "because" or "since") is
>more and more common in written correspondence?  This is the
>third or
>fourth instance I've seen in less than a week, leading me to
>that it may be moving toward respectability.
>greg at

Beverly Olson Flanigan         Department of Linguistics
Ohio University                     Athens, OH  45701
Ph.: (740) 593-4568              Fax: (740) 593-2967

More information about the Ads-l mailing list