Skip navigation

Category Archives: punctuation

>By Anthea Tillyer – City University of New York, USA

I am a little surprised by how concerned some teachers are about “comma splices”. It seems to me that this is a tiny, tiny (and very insignificant) problem that second language writers have in English.

In fact, if my class of second language learners had this as their biggest problem when writing English, I would consider them (and me) a huge success and would take them out for a drink to celebrate.

I think this concern with “comma splices” is a typical example of teachers applying to second language writing rules that were applied to them (as first language learners). But the fact is that English is a MEANING-DRIVEN language and “comma splices” rarely interfere with meaning, especially when considered next to all the other problems that second language writers have trying to create clear meaning to their writing in English.

Another reason for the focus on comma splices by some teachers is that they are easy to teach about. They do not require any interaction with the students’ ideas or writing. They are just rules. Some teachers feel much more comfortable teaching “rules” than actually dealing with meaning, ideas, and feelings.

Finally, I should point out that in the Englishes other than American, the use of the phrase “comma splice” is virtually unknown, and the reason for that is that other Englishes have no problem with sentences like

“He was not the president, he was the prime-minister.”

Or this,

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness;” (Dickens).

In short, less worry about details of rules and more focus on meaning and clarity are in order. It is also useful to be less US-centric and more aware of other Englishes.