It's a sentence from Bartleby, the Scrivener.

He lives, then, on ginger-nuts...he must be a vegetarian then; but no; he never eats even vegetables, he eats nothing but ginger-nuts.

What I cannot understand is why the comma has been used between two clauses "he never eats even vegetables, he eats nothing but ginger-nuts." I thought there has to be period instead of comma so that the sentence will look like this:

He lives...he never eats even vegetables. He eats nothing but ginger-nuts.

Is there a specific grammar rule that allows a comma between two clauses that are not connected by coordinate conjunctions? If there is any, please let me know.



This construction is commonly known as a comma splice. It is frowned upon in present-day English, and it is almost universally held nowadays that the comma should be replaced by a semicolon, a dash, or a full stop.

However, Bartleby the Scrivener is not written in present-day English. It’s from 1853, 162 years old. 162 years ago, rules and mores were different, and independent clauses were frequently joined by commas instead of other punctuation if they were felt to be quite closely connected to each other (as the two clauses in your example are).

So no, there is no specific grammar rule that allows this—especially because commas are punctuation, not grammar—in contemporary English. The story’s age is what ‘allows’ it.

  • I would also add that the text is heavily stylized. Even in the excerpt you've quoted you have, "He lives, then, on ginger nuts...". It would not be common to insert the word 'then' in the middle of that sentence except as a sort of affectation, to influence the meter of one's reading.
    – IchabodE
    Jul 28 '15 at 22:18
  • @MBurke I don't know about that… that's a perfectly natural place to put the then to me. Not in speech, perhaps, but it doesn't strike me as particularly stylised in writing at all. Jul 29 '15 at 6:34

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