1. cazann34
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    cazann34 Active Member

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    Abuse of semicolon?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by cazann34, Dec 29, 2012.

    This sentence is quoted from a critique of my WIP. I'm unsure if the poster is correct. I thought I'd gotten the hang of using colons and semi colons but now I'm not sure. I posted this for a second opinion. The poster said that I had abused the semicolon

    Edit; Perhaps I haven't made this clear enough, I want to know if I've used the semicolon correctly in the above sentence.
     
  2. evelon
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    evelon Active Member

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    If the 'constant stresses' you talk about means the following list, then I think a colon rather than a semi-colon should be used. The constant stresses: the rushing...etc.
    If you mean to include 'constant stresses' in the list, then it should be a comma - The constant stresses, the rushing....etc.
     
  3. Daniel Cassidy
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    Daniel Cassidy Member

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    The critique is correct if "the rushing, the endless traffic, the noise, the dirt, and the crowds" are the "constant stresses" because it is a list, not an independent clause.

    "The constant stresses; the rushing, the endless traffic, the noise, the dirt, and the crowds."

     
  4. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Semi-colon is very rarely necessery, or appropriate. It is used for that fine line between a two-part sentence and a new sentence. When neither is appropriate, semi-colon will feel right. In your sentence there's absolutely no need for it, it should have been a comma. Colon or a dash might work also. But not semi-colon, imo.
     
  5. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    what no one has yet addressed is the fact that it's being used in dialog, which is a no-no for the american market, though it may get a pass in the uk... that's why i would also brand your use an abuse...

    as the sentence is being spoken, a comma, or an ellipsis for a longer pause would be correct...
     
  6. Nicholas C.
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    Nicholas C. Active Member

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    This is a place where I would use an em dash. Now, I can't say it's a perfect example since, as mama pointed, it may not be appropropriate for dialouge, but I certainly would use an em dash instead of a semi-colon.
     
  7. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    It should be a colon, because it's introducing a list. I don't think whether it appears in dialogue or not matters. The rules of punctuation don't change just because the sentence is being spoken rather than written.
     
  8. Mithrandir
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    Mithrandir Contributing Member

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    As I pointed out in my critique of The Basketball Fiasco, this is not abuse of the semi-colon, but rather misuse. Semi-colons are used to link independent clauses. They cannot introduce a list. See "Girl" by Jamaica Kincaid. The story is all one sentence. I believe it is grammatically correct.
     
  9. Jon M
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    Jon M Member

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    A colon or em dash is more appropriate there. Personally, I would go for the dash.
     
  10. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    dashes are not properly used in dialog other than at the end of a sentence that is interrupted by another speaker...

    pauses within the dialog, or trailing-off are correctly shown with an ellipsis...

    actually, they do, in this case... while colons and semicolons may be used in dialog in the UK, they are not considered correct in the US... as a professional editor, i would not allow one to remain in dialog, if the work is meant for the US market...
     
  11. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Alas, I was educated in Canada, where both American and British usage are strongly influential.
     
  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Please refrain from derogatory remarks about one dialect of English over another. It is not helpful, and is disrespectful toward those who grew up with that dialect.

    It suffices to note that the rules are not uniform across all English dialects.
     
  13. Claude Fleming
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    Claude Fleming New Member

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    Take Cogito's advice, but don't take any other member's advice. And read The Dimwit's Dictionary. Then memorize the thousands of usage guidelines from various sources, and try your best not to write anything at all. Cogito, you are a damn good writer. I can't believe you tolerate this gibberish on these forums. You are thousands of times more intelligent than I am, and I would never give advice if I had not spent many years both reading great works of literature and I would most definitely not tell someone that semicolons don't "sell" in the United States without having the slightest clue what I was talking about. I do not wish to be a so-called "troll", but I am one of the most meticulous members of this forum, and I consider myself a blockhead that will never amount to anything. Don't take advice from people on the Internet. As it is said, that is like the blind leading the blind.
     
  14. Claude Fleming
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    Claude Fleming New Member

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    I'm sorry for being so rude. I'm not a very nice person. :(
     
  15. Lewdog
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    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

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    Only if welfare services have to get involved.
     
  16. Lewdog
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    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

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    I thought semi-colons were supposed to be used to separate things in a list when the list is introduced by a colon and the list contains more than three items?
     
  17. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    You keep saying that, and last time you did I cited a whole list of current US top sellers that used semicolons in dialog (in the US editions). All of the ones I checked used semicolons, and most of them did it within dialog, in just the few pages that Amazon gave me with the "look inside". I suspect your view on this is somewhat out of date or specific to a particular genre you deal with, because it simply doesn't stack up against the evidence.
     
  18. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    exceptions to a 'rule' [official or not] do not prove it's 'wise' to do something, only that some have done it...

    and new, unknown writers would be wise to maximize their work's chances of being published, than to narrow them by striving to be a comparatively rare exception...
     
  19. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    True enough. And based on the evidence, the "comparatively rare exception" would be the writer who avoided semicolons. One editor who doesn't like them does not prove that there's a rule, unofficial or not.
     
  20. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    True enough. And based on the evidence, the "comparatively rare exception" would be the writer who avoided semicolons. One editor who doesn't like them does not prove that there's a rule, unofficial or not.
     
  21. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I'm with digitig on this. I've been looking at short stories published in recent issues of The New Yorker and Harper's, both of which are mainstream, large-circulation American magazines, and these stories include plenty of semicolons, colons, and so on. The editors of these magazines clearly don't object to semicolons. And as I said, these are not obscure, arty, "little" magazines; they are big mainstream magazines.
     
  22. Mithrandir
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    Mithrandir Contributing Member

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    They are used in a list when the items in the list contain commas. My rhetorical grammar teacher told us that such lists, with each item containing a comma, should be rewritten. It is a pretty special case.

    Here's an example (not a commercial link).
     
  23. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Genre has a lot to do with this. From my experience, literary/general fiction tends to use more semicolons than other genres, and using semicolons in dialogue seems to be more accepted.
     
  24. Iwanabeone
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    Iwanabeone Banned

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    I rarely am able to determine when it is proper to use the semicolon. I use MS Word and often click on the review tab to have the software find errors. Often, I find this a complete waste of time. Occasionally, Word comes up with a spot where it suggests the use of a semicolon. I sit and stare at the sentence and usually decide to agree. That being said, all of the above comments have served to advance my education on the use of the semicolon, for which I thank you all.
     
  25. Jon M
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    Jon M Member

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    The usage rules are pretty simple: you can use a semi-colon to connect two independent, but related clauses; and you can use them as a 'super-comma' to separate items in a list (such as here) where commas are present, to avoid confusion.
     

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