Justifying a Comma Splice

In the last post, I talked about a major error in writing – a comma splice. As I mentioned in that post, there are some cases wherein using a comma splice just might be acceptable. In fact, this is in an ongoing debate.

So when is a comma splice acceptable?

According to Strunk & White, one can use a comma splice “when the clauses are very short and alike in form.” The most commonly cited example for this case is the popular line:

I came, I saw, I conquered.

Diana Hacker of A Writer’s Reference also gives some examples:

Man proposes, God disposes.
The gates swung open, the bridge fell, the portcullis was drawn up.

Furthermore, when the clauses involved express contrast, it can be acceptable to use a comma splice. Here are some examples.

This is my mother, that is my aunt.
It’s not a field cricket, it’s a snow cricket.
They didn’t go to the beach, they went to the mountains.

I can’t emphasize enough how controversial this construction is. However, if you do decide to put it in practice, I think that you’ll find that some other writers will agree with you.

It seems that another qualification for a comma splice to be acceptable is that if you’re a skilled writer, and you’re writing poetically. Here are a couple of well known writers who made use of this “error” in their writing.

The pleasures of the intellect are permanent, the pleasures of the heart are transitory. – Henry David Thoreau

Think like a man of action, act like a man of thought. – Henri Bergson

In this case, it becomes a matter of style. Experienced writers will tell you that, while you can use a comma splice, you do so at your own risk.

There you have it – cases wherein you may use a comma splice to get your point across. Is using a comma splice punishable by death? Maybe for some people it is. However, you can get away with it every so often.


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