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I understand that if two independent sentences are connected with a comma but without a conjunction it is considered a comma splice. Recently I have seen the below sentence in a book and to me it looks like a comma splice. If I'm correct in my conclusion that the below qualifies for a comma splice, then what are the exceptions for the comma splice rule?

"The smaller numbers come from darker patches, the larger numbers from brighter patches."

marked as duplicate by Edwin Ashworth, Nigel J, curiousdannii, Xanne, RaceYouAnytime Nov 27 '17 at 16:24

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    I am thinking of "Contrasted Coordinate Elements" comma-rule. Example: He was happy most of the day, but sad by the end of it. – FrankMK Nov 24 '17 at 18:33
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    The rule, as usual for rules made up from whole cloth, is overgeneralized and full of exceptions. In the example given, a comma intonation is intended and perceived; a semicolon, which is a full stop, would be overkill. – John Lawler Nov 24 '17 at 19:17
  • If you put a period or semicolon there, the second half would have no verb. You can't have a complete sentence with no verb. – Kevin Nov 24 '17 at 19:45
  • @Kevin: That's not quite true; the sentence is obviously fine as-is, but so is "The smaller numbers come from darker patches; the larger numbers, from brighter patches" (with a comma at the point of ellipsis). – ruakh Nov 24 '17 at 20:08
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The second half of that sentence is not a complete sentence:

[T]he larger numbers from brighter patches.

There's no verb, so this would be a fragment. Therefore, we cannot use a semicolon or period to separate these two clauses. We must use a comma.

This would still be true if there were a verb; you can't do this kind of parallel structure proper justice with a period or a semicolon. However, such a construction would be more grammatical if it had a coordinating conjunction as well:

The smaller numbers come from darker patches, and the larger numbers come from brighter patches.

Leaving out the "and" would make it an ungrammatical comma splice, but replacing the comma with a semicolon would be the wrong fix, because it would interfere with the parallel structure of the sentence.

If you don't insert the extra verb, the original construction is also perfectly grammatical, because the second clause is a dependent clause with no verb.

To summarize:

  1. "The smaller numbers come from darker patches, the larger numbers from brighter patches." is a grammatical compound sentence, made up of an independent clause and a dependent clause.
  2. "The smaller numbers come from darker patches, and the larger numbers come from brighter patches." is a grammatical compound sentence, made up of two independent clauses and a coordinating conjunction.
  3. "The smaller numbers come from darker patches, and the larger numbers from brighter patches." is grammatical but a bit more awkward than (1).
  4. "The smaller numbers come from darker patches, the larger numbers come from brighter patches." is an ungrammatical comma splice. A semicolon would be legal in place of the comma, but (1) or (2) would be much more natural.
  • that was exactly my though too. Why not use a coordinating conjunction? But how is this sentence without a conjunction grammatically correct? – Raj Nov 24 '17 at 19:50
  • @Raj: Because it's a dependent clause. It has no verb. – Kevin Nov 24 '17 at 19:51
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    Are you calling the original "ungrammatical"? How so? What about this one: “A cat has nine lives to give for his country; a man, only one.” – tchrist Nov 24 '17 at 19:54
  • @tchrist: No, I'm not. I've added a summary to clarify. – Kevin Nov 24 '17 at 19:55

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