Short clauses can take commas
Ron Milan wants to use a comma to separate two short clauses:
I wrote a sentence:
“Experts teach, peers comfort.”
Word creates an error unless I write
“Experts teach and peers comfort.”
“Experts teach; peers comfort.” (semi colon versus comma).
However, I like the shorter pause by a comma. Any rules on this?
Punctuation exists to help readers make sense of what is written, but it can also be a means of helping a reader hear the writer’s voice.
The difference between Ron’s preferred sentence and those suggested by Word is a difference of style. All three sentences are understandable, but the first conveys an introspective tone that the others lack.
Julius Caesar’s boast of Veni, vidi, vici is usually translated as I came, I saw, I conquered. The insertion of an and or of semicolons would spoil the effect by slowing it down or making it sound more prosaic than triumphant.
The Chicago Manual of Style staunchly defends the semicolon to separate independent clauses not joined by a conjunction:
Two independent clauses not joined by a conjunction are best separated by a semicolon or a period. This principle has always been the fifth major rule put forth in The Elements of Style—starting with Strunk’s original (Ithaca, NY, 1918) and continuing almost unchanged . . . through the latest (fourth) edition of Strunk and White (New York, 2000).
Strunk, however, doesn’t get the last word, not even in the offices of the CMS. When a writer queried about using a comma instead of a semicolon in a sentence with two independent clauses and no conjunction, the response was that the sentence in question did, in fact, read better with the comma. The CMS editor acknowledged that
[s]ometimes the ear is more important than the rulebook.
When choosing whether to use a comma or a semicolon, the writer must consider both clarity and desired stylistic effect.
Here’s an interesting About article on the semicolon
P.S. I just discovered that the National Geographic Manual of Style supports the comma for short clauses and no conjunction. Their example is also the Julius Caesar quotation.
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