Can [sic] be used to highlight a punctuational error?

In the sentence below, the bracketed sic would obviously denote that the punctuation preceding it was an error — that is, a semicolon should supplant the comma. Has anybody ever seen this usage, and would you support it?

The sun is high, [sic] put on some sunblock.

  • 8
    No, I've never seen this usage and I wouldn't support it. It doesn't "obviously" tell me that the comma is incorrect: it suggests that the entire phrase "The sun is high," has something wrong with it (too much LSD?). I'd put the "[sic]" at the end of the sentence were I to use a "[sic]". But so many native Anglophones wouldn't find anything wrong with this comma splice that adding it is merely an exercise in peevish futility.
    – user21497
    Apr 6, 2013 at 1:23
  • 1
    How one writer punctuates his text compared to another can vary greatly, especially if the text is a narrative or a poem. Punctuation is often subjective, and there are famous cases of works of literature whose use of punctuation was to say the least, original. "Finnegan's Wake" comes to mind.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jun 5, 2013 at 7:30

1 Answer 1


The Wikipedia article is excellent here (below, my emphasis);

Sic, in its bracketed form, is most often inserted into quoted or reprinted material in order to indicate meticulous accuracy in reproducing the preceding text despite appearances to the reader of an incorrect or unusual orthography (spelling, punctuation, etc.), grammar, fact or logic.[7][10] Several usage guides recommend that a bracketed sic be used primarily as an aid to the reader, and not as an indicator of disagreement with the source.[7][11]

[7] Bryan A. Garner. "sic." A dictionary of modern legal usage (2nd edition). Oxford University Press US, 2001. ISBN 0-19-514236-5, ISBN 978-0-19-514236-5 (pp.806-807)

[10] "Grammar and Style." USD History Guide for Writing Research Papers. Department of History, University of South Dakota. 6/12/2009

[11] William Coyle and Joe Law (2009). Research Papers. Cengage Learning. p. 72. ISBN 0-547-19081-6.

I agree with this passage, and think '[sic]' can be used to highlight a punctuation error. It should be an actual error though, one that can confuse the reader, not marking a stylistic choice. I think your example asserts a stylistic choice rather than an actual error; at any rate, this 'error' does not actually introduce any substantive ambiguity.

  • 1
    An "actual error", then, is obviously in the eye of the beholder. This kind of "anything goes"-ism is exactly what I meant by "so many native Anglophones wouldn't find anything wrong with this comma splice that adding "[sic]" is merely an exercise in peevish futility". In speech, of course, there are no commas, only pauses, which is what a comma usually represents, but to the comma-blind, they might as well not be there (whatever). wedontneedthespacesorapostropheseitherdowe
    – user21497
    Apr 6, 2013 at 4:44
  • No, I'm not totally laissez faire about it. Just because some prescriptive grammar is totally inconsequential -- to the chagrin of some authoritarians -- doesn't mean anything goes.
    – Ryan
    Apr 6, 2013 at 5:16
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    All writing-mechanics rules (punctuation isn't grammar) are inconsequential to the illiterate because they apply to writing only. Thus, your rant about "prescriptive grammar" is off-topic & irrelevant. They're also inconsequential to blithe spirits, informal scribblers, & creative writers, who follow either their own rules or none at all: their aim is to "express themselves", not to communicate; therefore, they rarely, if ever, use conventions like "[sic]". If Faulkner & Joyce used "[sic]", it wasn't in a novel. "Inconsequential" is a semantically empty high-calorie abstraction.
    – user21497
    Apr 6, 2013 at 5:38
  • 3
    Punctuation exists only for written forms of the language. Punctuation rules are "writing mechanics rules" found in style manuals. The grammar of the language(s) you speak is carried in your head. There was no punctuation before writing, but there was grammar. The basic grammar of a language is known to all native speakers of that language: ask a 5-year-old a question & you get an answer 'cause the kid knows what a Q is & can ask you a Q, but you don't get a "?" with that Q, just a rising intonation for a yes/no Q, etc. Ancient Chinese & Japanese have no punctuation but do have grammar. Etc.
    – user21497
    Apr 6, 2013 at 6:15
  • 1
    Yes, "?" is part of the orthography, so its inclusion's a matter of writing mechanics & punctuation (WMP) rules, which're dictated by style manuals, convention, & preference, not grammar. If I write "Are you tall" or "Where are you", I don't need "?": word order (syntax = grammar) tells you they're Qs, not statements. If "You are tall", I need "?" to show it's a Q, not a statement, but rising spoken intonation tells that too. Punctuation's a visual add-on. In Chinese, "ma", not "?", shows a Q.
    – user21497
    Apr 7, 2013 at 0:38

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