1. rachel21321
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    rachel21321 Member

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    Lists, Hyphens, Commas. Take a stab.

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by rachel21321, Dec 4, 2009.

    This questions is mostly dealing with complex sentences. I know we're supposed to avoid them, but I just really want to know the correct way to punctuate them. I've provided some examples below.

    1. Each guest brought something to show their respects -flowers, candles, incense, various gifts- everything was piled on a long table in the center of the boat. * Here I don't want to use a conjunction in my list and I don't really want to break the sentence up. How do I punctuate?*

    2. Of course -as is typical with funerals, and events of the sort- a head count is rarely exact, and 152 people showed up. *I don't want to break this down, Just ensure proper punctuation. Because "of course" (an introductory phrase?) would usually be followed by a comma I'm not sure the rules when it is followed by "as is ..." (nonessential clause/element?)*

    3. Flowers, candles, incense, various gifts: everything was piled on a long table in the center of the boat. *Sometimes I want to list items at the start of a sentence, a la here, but I'm not sure how to punctuate.*

    4. I later learned that, on a similar cruise, in the past, crabs had escaped and wrecked havoc on the ship; part of me was hoping this would happen again-it didn't. *I know I could say "on a past cruise" and get rid of the "in the past" but I'm weary that doesn't emphasize the fact that it was another cruise dealing with the same uncommon event.* (in this story- a Buddhist funeral)

    5. Many guests, especially those older and less-obliged to being waited on, let their trash to pile up?on and around them, rather than using the many convenient trashcans. *Same as the above. I don't want to break the sentence up, just use proper commas, hyphens and semi-colons. Also, if this has any tense issues let me know!*

    6. Once everyone was situated, we took drink orders -no one ordered alcoholic drinks, my tips would stay low- and helped divvy out the food. *Comma after the "once everyone..." because it's introductory, and I'm unsure of the rest...

    7. Then, one member of each family, presumably the remaining patriarch, reached into their respective urns and pulled out handfuls of ashes, throwing them into the wind.

    That's all I have for now. T.I.A for all the help!
     
  2. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    1. Each guest brought something to show their respects: flowers, candles, incense, various gifts. Everything was piled on a long table in the centre of the boat. That should definitely be split into two sentences. There are two distinct ideas expressed, and the first doesn't inevitably flow into the second which is where you usually find those kinds of run on sentences.

    2. Of course, as is typical with funerals and events of the sort, a head count is rarely exact, and 152 people showed up.

    3. Same as the first question, except here you would probably write ". . .various gifts, everything piled on a long table. . ." (no was...at least, I wouldn't include one, though its more a style thing than a grammar thing).

    4. I later learned that on a similar cruise in the past crabs has escaped and wreaked havoc on the ship. Part of me was hoping this would happen again; it didn't. (Though really, you can and probably should replace that semi-colon with a full stop.)

    5. Many guests, especially those who were older and less accustomed to being waited on, let their trash pile up on and around themselves, rather than using th many convenient trash cans. I rewrote that sentence since what you have there now makes no sense....that's not what obliged means, and it doesn't need to be hyphenated.

    6. Once everyone was situated, we took drink orders--no one ordered alcoholic drinks, so my tips would stay low--and helped divvy out the food.
     
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  3. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    1. Each guest brought something to show their respects--flowers, candles, incense, and various gifts. Everything was piled on a long table in the center of the boat.

    I’m sorry, I really feel you have to break that sentence up.

    2. Of course, as is typical with funerals and events of the sort, a head count is rarely exact. One hundred and fifty people showed up.

    Again, I think this sentence has to be broken up. I know it’s a style thing, not punctuation.

    3. Flowers, candles, incense and various gifts were piled on a long table in the center of the boat.

    4. I later learned that on a similar cruise in the past, crabs had escaped and wrecked havoc.
    Part of me was hoping this would happen again--it didn't.

    The semicolon just makes this sentence cumbersome.

    5. Many guests--especially those older and less used to being waited on--let their trash
    pile up around them, rather than using the many convenient trashcans.

    6. Once everyone was seated, we took drink orders. No one ordered alcoholic drinks, so
    my tips would stay low. ?? and helped divvy out the food.

    ????????? I don’t understand the end of this. WHO helped? Do WHAT?

    7. Then, one member of each family--presumably the remaining patriarch--reached into
    their urns and pulled out handfuls of ashes, throwing them into the wind.

    I’m not sure how you can ‘pull out’ a handful of ashes.

    There are some places here where I would use a colon or semicolon for academic-style writing, but dashes seem to fit a contemporary style better sometimes. If you put commas instead of dashes, it becomes filled with commas everywhere.

    You have several asides, add-ons and run-ons. Re-writing to avoid them would make punctuation less of an issue IMO.

    I know you said you want to make complex sentences, but it isn't just the punctuation that holds a sentence together. There has to be a logical reason why you want such long, complex sentences, and for the examples above, you can't convince me that complex is good. Sorry!
     
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  4. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    Arron and Madhoca have given some good advice here. I would break up some of the sentences as they have indicated. You're trying to stuff them full of information that doesn't look or 'feel' like it all belongs in one sentence. Also, Madhoca is right about the em dash vs. the colon and semicolon in regards to fiction. I would try to avoid the colon and semicolon altogether. Besides, the em dash is more fun to use.;) It's much more flexible than any of the other options. But nine times out of ten, nothing beats a full stop, if it looks like you could use one.
     
  5. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    This questions is mostly dealing with complex sentences. I know we're supposed to avoid them, but I just really want to know the correct way to punctuate them. I've provided some examples below.

    No reason to avoid a complex sentence where meaning can be clarified through punctuation. But punctuation alone will not always do that if the thought itself is confusing or reflected by imprecise or inadequate word choice or issues of syntax, which I think complicates some of these.

    1. Each guest brought something to show their respects -flowers, candles, incense, various gifts- everything was piled on a long table in the center of the boat. * Here I don't want to use a conjunction in my list and I don't really want to break the sentence up. How do I punctuate?*

    Each guest brought something to show his respect--flowers, candles, incense, a gift (here, you're speaking of "each guest" singular, so the word choice of "various gifts" and "show their respects" is a little out of sync, to my read). Everything was piled on a long table in the center of the boat. (If you insist on a single sentence--and I don't understand why that would be--you'd need a semicolon to separate the two complete thoughts, one of which is complicated by a series of commas.

    2. Of course -as is typical with funerals, and events of the sort- a head count is rarely exact, and 152 people showed up. *I don't want to break this down, Just ensure proper punctuation. Because "of course" (an introductory phrase?) would usually be followed by a comma I'm not sure the rules when it is followed by "as is ..." (nonessential clause/element?)*

    This is awkward wording to deliver the meaning that seems to be intended. "Of course, as is typical with funerals and events of the sort, a head count is rarely exact." Then to go on to make the statement that 152 people (a very precise number) showed up negates the point just made about the head count being rarely exact. What you may mean is that in spite of the fact that a head count is rarely exact, it was reported that 152 people showed up. Or maybe you mean that it looked like around 150 people showed up, or that at least 150 people showed up, or something other. But even with other wording, I don't see the point of jamming both thoughts into the same sentence--and certainly not connecting these two thoughts with and--not because it's important not to use complex sentences, but because complicating the sentence this way confuses the intended meaning. Beyond that, nothing weakens a well chosen image more than combining it into a single sentence with other well chosen images that could easily be presented in their own space.

    3. Flowers, candles, incense, various gifts: everything was piled on a long table in the center of the boat. *Sometimes I want to list items at the start of a sentence, a la here, but I'm not sure how to punctuate.*

    [Flowers, candles, incense, various gifts--everything was piled on a long table in the center of the boat. (that's what I'd do)]

    4. I later learned that, on a similar cruise, in the past, crabs had escaped and wrecked havoc on the ship; part of me was hoping this would happen again-it didn't. *I know I could say "on a past cruise" and get rid of the "in the past" but I'm weary that doesn't emphasize the fact that it was another cruise dealing with the same uncommon event.* (in this story- a Buddhist funeral)

    I later learned that on a similar cruise in the past, crabs had escaped and wreaked (sp) havoc on the ship. Part of me was hoping this would happen again. It didn't. (Thing here is that none of these has any good reason I can think of being a part of a sentence that includes all these various images. This, too, has nothing to do with avoiding complexity. It has to do with strengthening images by letting them breathe).]

    5. Many guests, especially those older and less-obliged to being waited on, let their trash to pile up?on and around them, rather than using the many convenient trashcans. *Same as the above. I don't want to break the sentence up, just use proper commas, hyphens and semi-colons. Also, if this has any tense issues let me know!*

    Many guests, especially those older and less obliged to being waited on (what does this mean?), let their trash pile up on and around them rather than using the many convenient trashcans. (I can't figure out what you mean here. Maybe that those older folks were less likely to be waited on for some reason, so they let trash pile up on top of them? I dunno, sorry.

    6. Once everyone was situated, we took drink orders -no one ordered alcoholic drinks, my tips would stay low- and helped divvy out the food. *Comma after the "once everyone..." because it's introductory, and I'm unsure of the rest...

    I think this is very awkward. That is to say, I don’t think anyone would actually speak this way, in any case (even beyond dialogue, if you read it aloud). But purely for the sake of punctuating a sentence that contains an aside, here's how you might do it: "Once everyone was situated, we took drink orders (no one ordered alcoholic drinks, so my tips would stay low) and helped divvy out the food." I can't understand why you wouldn't rearrange it, myself. "Once everyone was situated, we helped divvy out the food and took drink orders. No one ordered alcoholic beverages, (and) so my tips would stay low." I think you’d have to connect these thoughts with “and” in order to clarify that the meaning is that the fact that no one was buying expensive drinks is what led to the low tips. Otherwise, your meaning sounds more like bemoaning the fact that no one bought expensive drinks for the purpose of keeping the tips low, as if that was preferable somehow (which doesn't make sense to me without more explanation than you’ve given here).

    7. Then, one member of each family, presumably the remaining patriarch, reached into their respective urns and pulled out handfuls of ashes, throwing them into the wind.

    Then, one member of each family--presumably the remaining patriarch--reached into his urn and pulled out handfuls of ashes, throwing them into the wind. This sentence reflects a singular subject, not plural, and the rest should be consistent with that. No need to use the awkward “their” which doesn’t match up with the singular subject, especially since the presumed “patriarch” of each family is masculine. The pronoun here should be “his.” You would only use “their” if the subject was plural (e.g., “all patriarchs” reached into their respective urns). Or—if you did not want to reword it, and the subject was singular, but implied both genders (which this doesn’t), and just to be politically correct, you could say, e.g., “The head of each family reached into their respective urns …” (which I find truly unnatural and would ALWAYS reword it, but (alas) this is sometimes considered acceptable).

    That's all I have for now. T.I.A for all the help!
     
  6. rachel21321
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    rachel21321 Member

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    Thanks everyone for your help. I know it probably wasn't very easy given everything was out of context. From these suggestions alone, I think I'm getting a better grasp on all of my punctuation and tense issues.
     
  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ...definitely never with a single hyphen and a space before or after it!... if an em dash is used, in the us it's shown with a double hyphen, no space before, between, or after... in the uk, only an actual em dash is used, with a space fore and aft...

    ...but it's a poorly constructed sentence, sorry to say and does need to be divided into two, as worded... to avoid doing that, you'd have to reword it... could be done like this:

    Each guest brought something--flowers, candles, incense, and various other gifts were all piled on a long table, in the center of the boat.

    ...'show their respects' makes no sense... the common expression is 'pay their respects'... but that doesn't really gibe with the giving of gifts...

    ...'other' must be added, since the items mentioned are 'gifts'...

    ...no dashes, only commas... but 2 commas should be deleted, 'the' changed to 'that' [or 'this'] and number must be spelled out...

    Of course, as is typical with funerals and events of that sort, a head count is rarely exact and a hundred and fifty-two people showed up.

    ...with an em dash... colon isn't appropriate there, since what precedes it isn't a clause, just a list...

    Flowers, candles, incense, various gifts--everything was piled on a long table in the center of the boat.

    ...first, it's 'wreaked' and 'wary'...

    ...the sentence is overworded, 'in the past' not needed, if you put 'earlier' before 'similar'... it's also over-crammed and that seems to be a bad habit of yours, trying to do too much with one poor sentence...

    ...there's no good way to keep all of that together in one... that tacked-on ending has to go out on its own, either in toto, or at least the very end bit...

    I later learned that, on an earlier similar cruise, crabs had escaped and wreaked havoc on the ship--part of me was hoping this would happen again. It didn't.

    or

    I later learned that, on an earlier similar cruise, crabs had escaped and wreaked havoc on the ship. Part of me was hoping this would happen again--it didn't.

    better overall wording would be:

    I learned later that, on an earlier cruise, crabs had escaped, wreaking havoc. Part of me was hoping it would happen again. It didn't.

    ...much of this makes no sense and needs to be redone... 'less obliged' does not take a hyphen; 'obliged' is the wrong word... you seem to have meant 'accustomed'; 'pile up?on' may be a typo, but i can't guess what you wanted there; 'using' has to be 'use' to match 'let'... one okay way to write this would be:

    Many guests, especially those older and less accustomed to being waited on, let their trash to pile up around them, rather than use the numerous, conveniently-placed trashcans.

    ...again, trying to put way too much into one sentence... and all that stuff in the middle is way too long to be set off with em dashes, putting the continuation of the first part too far from it to make any sense... 'divvy 'out' and 'would stay low' make no sense, repeating 'drinks' is poor writing... the only way to keep this as a single sentence and have it read well and make sense, is to restructure it like this:

    Once everyone was situated, we took drink orders and helped divvy up the food--no one ordered alcohol, so my tips would be minimal.

    ...nothing much wrong here, other than the usual over-cramming, though i'd use em dashes instead of commas, for that 'aside'...

    Then, one member of each family--presumably the remaining patriarch--reached into their respective urns and pulled out handfuls of ashes, throwing them into the wind.

    ...my best advice to you would be to learn to write simpler sentences and shorter ones, stop making them so complicated that punctuation will become a problem...

    ...hope this helps... love and hugs, maia
     
  8. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    I skimmed over the other responses, and there are common confusions. I'm sure that'll point you in the right direction. IMO, it's not as much sentence length and complexity or incorrect punctuation, but a lack of clarity about the ideas and images being presented. It also (as far as I can see) has maybe less to do with verb tense than with misunderstanding subject and predicate and how they relate to each other. The recommendation to write shorter sentences is a good one to begin to study the construction of a complete thought (rather than needlessly complicating that thought, as you sometimes do, and then kind of losing the train before it arrives in the station). Punctuation alone won't fix that kind of problem. So, I'd suggest ...

    1. Divide each segment of thought into its own fully formed sentence in order to understand how it sounds when presented all on its own (and make sure that's correct, first).

    2. Once you've done that, decide what it is about these images that requires them to be situated in the story in a particular place and in a particular way. Ask yourself if there are (explainable) reasons to incorporate more than one of these thought segments into the same sentence. "Convenience" doesn't count;).

    3. Force yourself to experiment with at least half dozen different ways of combining images you have a good reason to want combined, and think about why you prefer one way over another. Remember that combining images into a sentence is not the only (or even the best) way to combine them in the reader's imagination. Paragraphs serve that purpose too, so every sentence need not be unwieldy just to deliver the goods.

    Personally, I'd say punctuation of complex sentences should be your last concern--after you've reached a point where you know that what you're combining ought to work (and why you think so). That alone will help (even help others help you make) decisions about which way to punctuate something works better than another.
     

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