1. JHockey
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    JHockey Member

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    Basic Punctuation

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by JHockey, Apr 15, 2012.

    I would like to ask a few things about punctuation. I was never formally taught the correct usage, and I read recently in a book whilst in a shop, about when to use the different devices for splitting up a sentence such as comma, semi-colon etc. But I have forgotten some of it. Could anyone give me a quick summary of the accurate use of these devices and of the areas where there can be ambiguity as to what to use?

    Thanks, Jonathan
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    You are much better off getting a writing handbook, such as the Little. Brown Handbook or the Scott Foresman Handbook for Writers.
     
  3. funkybassmannick
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    funkybassmannick Contributing Member

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  4. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    A classic text on this subject is Eric Partridge's "You have a point there". The writing style is rather formal, but he deals specifically with where there's ambiguity over which to use (and where there's even ambiguity over whether any punctuation should be used at all). It's specifically British English, though, so if it's some other variety you want (I can't tell from your profile where you are) it might not be the right book for you.
     
  5. Erato
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    Erato Contributing Member

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    I live by The Grammar Bible.
     
  6. JHockey
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    JHockey Member

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    I am from th UK, West Midlands, so a basic British one would be best for me. The book I looked at was a Collins' punctuation and grammar book. The online site looks quite helpful to me for now for some basic things:
    Then obviously its a matter of choosing the right reference book for me, I will have a look into it. All this time I have wrote things without thinking about correct usages, just using what intuitively felt correct. Working on this should give me a bit more confidence to submit my stories and manuscripts to be looked at by others I think. Also it will give me confidence to know my sentences are of the correct structure so thanks for the helpful suggestions.
     
  7. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Try ordering the Partridge one through your local library, to see how you get on with it. I also really like Noah Lukeman's The Art of Punctuation, but that assumes you already know the basic rules and looks at the creative writing effects of different choices you can make within the rules and of breaking them.
     
  8. JHockey
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    JHockey Member

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    I have checked the library catolog. They don't have Partridge one, they have a book called punctuation by Robert Allen, which seems to be about some of the basics. I may get hold of that, for today I think I will print off some of the info on that web site to get started. That Art of punctuation one sounds interesting, something to think about aswell.
     
  9. Pea
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    Pea super pea!

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  10. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    They are a tool that the skilled writer will know how to use. Like an angle grinder, though, they're an advanced tool, though, that the novice should probably avoid until they have had training and are using suitable protection.
     
  11. Kaymindless
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    Kaymindless Contributing Member

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    I like semi-colons :(
     
  12. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    How could we wink without them? ;)
     
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  13. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    A semicolon is what you have left after a bowel resection.
     
  14. Erato
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    Erato Contributing Member

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    Aww, I like semicolons! They're tricky things though; there are places where they should be used, simply because nothing else will fit; and there are places where they mustn't be used, because they're simply wrong. Like everything else in writing, they must not be overused. I don't think it's right to shun them.
     
  15. Kaymindless
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    Kaymindless Contributing Member

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    Okay. I'm just going to have to ask since there's not much clear. This is the first time I've heard anything against semicolons...

    Used properly, what is it that is wrong with them?
     
  16. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    "Used properly" is rare. But they are still a wishy-washy choice in fiction, where they are primarily used to join two clauses. In that usage, they are a weak compromise between compounding the sentence with a comma and conjunction and separating the sentences completely.

    Be decisive. Either join them, or separate them. Don't hang them together like a limp handshake.
     
  17. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    I take it the gas pedal on your car has just two settings, foot off and foot hard down.
     
  18. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    No, but my turn signal is either left or right when in use. When I approach a fork in the road, splitting the difference is a bad idea.
     
  19. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    They're not wishy-washy. I'm a surgeon who needs a scalpel, and you're telling me to choose between an axe and a chainsaw.

    I am decisive. If I choose the scalpel, it's because it's the instrument I need. Stop trying to limit my toolbox. :)
     
  20. funkybassmannick
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    While I agree that the semicolon is somewhat redundant taken from a grammatical point of view, I find semi colon to be a great tool for tone. Say I have two independent clauses that sound weird with a conjunction, so I separate them. But then the two sentences are closely related, and separate sentences seems too disjunct.

    Semicolon.
     
  21. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    for non-fiction, i agree wholeheartedly...

    but for fiction intended to target american [as in USA] readers, i'm with cog on advising the total avoidance of either colons or semicolons, since a comma, period, em dash, or conjunction will do a much better job and not seem out of place to most readers as those more formal marks will...
     
  22. toc1000
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    toc1000 New Member

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    For myself, I read through maybe 4 or 5 of the best classic texts on grammar at projectgutenberg.org (search the term "grammar").

    The classic texts in grammar are sooo much better than the moderns, believe it or not - moderns tend to explain the mechanics, whereas the classics attempt to inculcate a deeper, holistic understanding.
     
  23. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree that some of the classic grammar texts are much better at giving the reasons for the rules than most modern ones. But be careful: until quite late in the 20th century most English grammars described what the author wanted the language to be, rather than what it actually was. By and large you won't actually be considered wrong following their rules, but they'll actually be over-restrictive and your writing would tend to seem formal and stilted. Modern grammars are more likely to describe language as it is actually used (not to mention that the language has actually changed since those classic grammars were written).
     
  24. JHockey
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    Very helpful suggestions one and all. Punctuation is starting to make a bit more sense to me now. I've seen spell check point out a fragmented sentence to me in the past and not been sure what it was getting at. Funny how little things like that can knock your confidence in what you're writing. Hopefully I will be starting to get on the right track now.
     
  25. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    And of course fragments, whilst being a problem in formal writing, are perfectly acceptable in creative writing (as long as you remember that they're the birds-eye chilli of grammatical structures, and a little goes a long way).
     

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