1. kehl
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    kehl Member

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    Confusing Colon Usage

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by kehl, Aug 6, 2009.

    I'm really trying to tune my punctuation skills up--or lack thereof. There's still so much confusing me, though.

    My current punctuation problem is thus:

    The use of a colon. I thought I knew how to properly use a colon. In my reading, though, I'm starting to notice it used for a purpose that is still ambiguous to me. The following is an excerpt from the author Kennedy Fraser:

    I was especially grateful for the secret, shameful things about these women--the pain: the abortion and misalliances...


    Why does she put that colon there? If I were to place something from my limited bag of knowledge, I'd certainly use a semi-colon without a second thought.
     
  2. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    In your example, a semi-colon could be used to link two closely related independent clauses. Your two clauses do not appear independent clauses. The colon has many uses and without the full context of your example it is difficult to say exactly which is being used. Often, it used where what follows the colon further explains what precedes it. What follows a colon does not need to be an independent clause, but is not limited to non-independent clauses.

    As an easy resource, and in so far as it is to be trusted, Wikipedia offers reasonable example of when a colon is appropriate.
     
  3. kehl
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    kehl Member

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    I'm inferring that a semi-colon is used to punctuate two closely related independent clauses, but, generally, a colon is used for non-independent clauses? That seems somewhat counter-intuitive to both the connotations of the word "semi-colon" and everything I thought I knew about semi-colons. Of course I'm not arguing. Really I'm just grasping for some clarity. Are the uses of both flexible? Could one well-respected author place a semi-colon where another equally respected author would place a colon?

    I think the problem I'm facing is the lack of cohesion; or, rather, absolutes in the art of grammar. It seems like there are so many exceptions and too much room for discretion.
     
  4. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    A collon can be used to me "that is" "In other words"

    the pain: (that is) the abortions, the . . .
     
  5. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    "Confusing colon usage" -- your title brought up immediate physiological images in my mind. Oh how that title begs for a tongue-in-cheek reply! LOL

    Here is an excellent link that discusses and defines the semicolon and colon.

    http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/566/01/

    Notice that both the colon and semicolon are used to separate "independent clauses". However, the semicolon is used when the clauses are of equal emphasis, while the colon imparts greater emphasis to the second clause.

    There are other uses of the semicolon and colon but I chose to limit my answer specifically to the reference in your post. In the quote you provided, the author seems to want greater emphasis on "the abortion and misalliances...", hence, the use of a colon.
     
  6. Sound of Silence
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    Sound of Silence Member

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    It's introducing a list and it's common for the colon to go after the first item in that list.
     
  7. seta
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    seta Contributing Member

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    In fiction I absolutely loathe the use of colons and semicolons. To me it's nearly as bad as using parenthesis.

    A common theme that I have noticed is that "good authors don't need to use anything fancy".

    Maybe I'm just a snob though ;)
     
  8. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    There's nothing fancy about a colon.
     
  9. seta
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    seta Contributing Member

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    I just feel like if you have to use a colon you don't know exactly how to say what you're trying to write. Just personal opinion.
     
  10. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Iiiiiiiiiiiiii have to disagree. I don't even understand how your viewpoint makes sense? :D
     
  11. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Check out Bujold, an excellent writier, literary even. She uses colons in her novels.

    His bag fit everything: magic wand, herbs, divining pebbles, and potions.

    For the OP, the colon is still being used to mean "that is." His bag fit everything, that is, magic . . .

    I should show an example from Bujold's novel Curse of Chalion.

    Rat and Crow, sacred to the Bastard, god of all disasters out of season: tornadoes, earthquakes, droughts, floods, miscarriages, and murders . . .Wanted to compel the gods, did you? The fool had tried to work death magic, by the look of it, and paid death magic’s customary price. Alone?

    Here is another. She uses 45 colons in the novel, BTW.

    The brief notation thus revealed led him to a page toward the back of the book, one of Ordol’s most lyrical prayers: a passionate plea for the safety of a beloved one who traveled far from home.

    If you read the colon as "that is" it works.

     
  12. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i've no idea who that author is, but that's a terrible sentence!... and one of the most poorly punctuated i've seen...

    using both em dash and a colon in the same sentence is not only overkill, but confusing...

    if you mean marjory kennedy-fraser, she was writing in another age, when such fancy over-punctuation was the norm... nowadays, it is not...

    simplified by today's standards, that line could be done like this:

    but, since the end of that line is missing, i can't be sure that would work best...

    here's a good guide to colon use: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/handouts/grammar/g_overvw.html
     
  13. seta
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    seta Contributing Member

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    I was especially grateful for the secret, shameful things about these women. The pain, the abortion and misalliances...

    Yes, that is much prettier!

    The use of colons is overrated in pretty much all forms of writing, even in science and recipes.

    Colons don't belong in art.
     
  14. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Uh, what? I don't get why you are so against colons. They are just another form of punctuation, so there is nothing at all wrong with using them.
     
  15. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The best use of a colon is processing a pizza.

    The legitimate uses of a colon in fiction exist, but are few and far between. I daresay you could write several novels without needing to resort to using even one.
     
  16. seta
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    seta Contributing Member

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    Here, here! So far I have not needed a single one in my first full novel and I'm at about 62,000 words.

    Colons are ugly and disjointing. They are the most jarring form of punctuation in existence. They completely interrupt the flow of any sentence, which is the idea. Colons don't exist in normal conversation. If you think you need a colon for a list then you probably shouldn't even include the list. Lists are boring to read.

    OR

    There is ALWAYS a better way of writing something rather than using a colon.
     
  17. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    they're useful in scholarly and technical works, but not needed and should not be used in fiction, imo...
     
  18. SlickBeast
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    SlickBeast New Member

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    It is not the clauses that determine whether a semi-colon or colon should be used or not...rather, the general meanings of the clauses are dependent on the punctuation.

    As a rule of thumb, a colon is used as a substitute for the conjunction "because" and equivalents, while a semi-colon for "and".
     
  19. Atari
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    Atari Active Member

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    It seems to me that he is using a colon to introduce a list.
    "Pain" is being used as a general term to introduce the types of 'pain,' those being abortion and misalliances.


    Moreover,
    the emboldened part is a sentence fragment, and fragment notwithstanding, it appears much more plain and bland than that which the dashes and colon provide.


    Then again, I am of a very open mind and enjoy anything different, unique or atypical in writing. It makes it all much more -- fun.
     
  20. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    makes no sense to me, since abortion and misalliances, while certainly capable of causing pain, are NOT actual 'types of pain'...

    btw, i'm in the process of reading margaret atwood's 'the blind assassin' and her frequent use of colons and semicolons is annoying as bleep!... but i can forgive her and try to not see them [impossible to do, sorry to say], because she's one of the most brilliant writers of any century... and she's canadian... [no offense intended to those nice people, but like the british, they do do things a bit differently, here and there]
     
  21. Atari
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    Atari Active Member

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    Maybe it's metaphorical.
     

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