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To be clear, a is the acceleration of the object, F is the net force on the object, and m is the mass of the object.

Can we use commas for connecting independent clauses as a list? Is the above sentence grammatically correct, or is there a comma splice?

I think we can use semicolons instead of commas, but then there would be a lot of semicolons, which is, as I've learned, something to avoid if possible.

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  • Isn't your Question really, whether to use commas or semi-colons? Either way, I suggest "To be clear:" with a full colon would be better. In "… a is the acceleration, F is the net force, and m is the mass…" the real Question isn't about commas or semi-colons but why you want an "and"? Here, commas and semi-colons are even more interchangeable than usual. Commented Apr 9, 2020 at 18:13
  • I really want to know if there is a comma-splice in this sentence. I appreciate your answer, but my question is simply not, "whether there should be and," Commented Apr 15, 2020 at 10:25

2 Answers 2

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'To be clear' is a pragmatic marker (in this case one indicating clarifying specification in the matrix sentence), syntactically apart from the matrix sentence, and this setting off needs some separator. Introductory pragmatic markers (and there are many types), whether single- or multi-word, are usually set off by commas.

While semicolons could be used to separate main clauses (and are really needed in many cases – see 'comma splices' in other threads here), they are usually too heavy-duty between listed main clauses, as here. Also, more than one semicolon in a sentence is not normal, and a semicolon before 'and' is unusual.

However, the different roles of the first (parenthetical offsetting) comma and the other commas here clashes somewhat. I'd use:

  • To be clear: a is the acceleration of the object, F is the net force on the object, and m is the mass of the object.
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  • Perhaps in a much longer sentence, we'd need the semicolons to separate the clauses? Commented Apr 8, 2020 at 13:45
  • Better than "To be clear" could be "In the equation," or the reader thinks that previous sentences were admittedly unclear. Commented Apr 8, 2020 at 13:49
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    Rep@Yosef Baskin (b) One needs to have more context to pick the optimal pragmatic marker, but I'd agree that 'To be clear' does strongly hint at a tidying from previous material (whether in the text, or from other authors, though that is unlikely in this case). 'Defining terms' is infamous. (a) Not as a slavish nod to the 'independent clauses must always be separated by semicolons (or above) rather than commas' mantra, but as super-commas, if the independent clauses had other commas ... but yes. Commented Apr 8, 2020 at 14:20
  • I see your concerns about the introductory phrase, but my question only concerns the rest of the sentence –whether there is a comma splice in use of independent clauses. Commented Apr 15, 2020 at 10:34
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I have seen such sentences many times in scientific articles. They used commas. This is correct.

For example, look at the following text in page 4 from the following paper:

Text: "where the ai.s are taken to normalize over all the {vj}, Q(.) is a smooth function, and U is the weight matrix to be learned."

Paper: Quanzeng You, Liangliang Cao, Hailin Jin, Jiebo Luo, "Robust Visual-Textual Sentiment Analysis: When Attention meets Tree-structured Recursive Neural Networks", MM’16, October 15-19, 2016, Amsterdam, Netherlands.

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  • But why not use semicolons? Can you elaborate on that please. Commented Apr 8, 2020 at 11:23
  • I think both commas and semicolons can be used. But commas are more common. Commented Apr 8, 2020 at 11:30
  • Please add reputable references to your answer.
    – CJ Dennis
    Commented Apr 10, 2020 at 3:54
  • I added a reference. Commented Apr 10, 2020 at 7:03
  • Sorry but this doesn't seem like a good example: you use "where" in your first clause which makes it a subordinate clause; second one is an independent clause, yet the latter one has a coordinating conjunction, which obviously requires comma. This example has nothing to do with what I asked. Commented Apr 15, 2020 at 10:41

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