1. Puppet121
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    Puppet121 Member

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    ; : , Questions.

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Puppet121, Oct 10, 2008.

    I want to ask this before I go further in writing. Could someone explain to me in detail how the three characters : ; and , come into play? I know how to basically use ; and ,. You use ; to join two sentences together that don;t fit well as two. and You use , in lists and descriptions. The think I don't understand about , is how to use them effectively. I hope the way I worded this didn't confuse anyone with all the , ; and :.
     
  2. Scattercat
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    Scattercat Active Member

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    Commas are the workhorse of grammar. They do many jobs, but they are generally used as separators.

    They can separate items on a list, as you mentioned:


    They can also join together independent clauses which are joined with a conjunction:


    Or dependent clauses:


    Don't use commas for every time two clauses are joined:


    Commas also set aside subordinate clauses and appositives:

    ---

    Colons are pretty straightforward, all things considered. In normal narrative prose, they are generally used only to introduce lists:


    They can also provide a sharp break if needed, while still being less than a full stop:


    They can also be used for dialogue, but this is not common. The other main use of colons is to introduce direct quotations, which isn't usually an issue for fiction.

    ---

    Semicolons... semicolons are just a bit weird. They're basically stronger than a comma, but can do similar jobs. You can set off lists of four or more items with semicolons instead of commas (especially useful if your list items are phrases rather than just words):


    Semicolons also join sentences; they basically replace the conjunction. This technique is most often used when the second sentence doesn't obviously relate to the first sentence. Using the semicolon implies a stronger connection.

    You don't ever really NEED to use a semicolon. If you're not comfortable with them, stick with separate sentences, or clauses joined with conjunctions and commas.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    There are actually quite a few rules for these punctuation characters. I'd really recommend a good writer's guide. Strunk and White's The Elements of Style is excellent, but not as detailed as I like. But it should be part of your writer's bookshelf anyway. The Little, Brown Handbook is another excellent guide, as is The Scott Foresman Handbook for Writers. Lately, my reference of choice is The Chicago Manual of Style. It's dautingly thick, and the print is small, but it contains a wealth of very detailed information, well organized.

    All these references contain punctuation rules, grammar rules, sentence structure recommendations, usage rules for commonly misused words, and other useful information.
     
  4. Scarlett_156
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    Scarlett_156 Active Member

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    COMMAS: If it's all one sentence, but you feel that there needs to be a pause--or as you said, in the case of a list--use a comma.

    Bob, Linda, George, and Susan went to the lake, where they saw ducks, geese, turtles, and a sasquatch. The sasquatch looked a lot like Linda, so George snapped a picture.

    Many people will not put that final comma in before the word "and" ("Linda, George, and Susan") but I favor using it because it makes things easier to read.

    FIND THE INCORRECT COMMAS IN THE FOLLOWING:
    Bob, Linda, George, and Susan went to the lake, where they saw ducks, geese, turtles, and a sasquatch, the sasquatch, looked a lot like Linda, so George, snapped a picture.

    PERIODS: A period divides two complete thoughts (period). Always make sure that the period DOES divide two complete thoughts; if you're not sure, don't use a semicolon (period). Use a period and then go back and read what you wrote to see if there are sentence fragments (period).

    Bob, Linda, George, and Susan went to the lake. Where they saw ducks, geese, turtles, and a sasquatch. The sasquatch looked a lot like Linda, so George snapped a picture.

    The first period is incorrect, because "where they saw ducks, geese, turtles etc" is not a complete sentence. If you change the word "where" to "there" (Bob, Linda, George, and Susan went to the lake. There they saw ducks, geese, turtles, and a sasquatch. The sasquatch looked a lot like Linda, so George snapped a picture) then it IS correct because "there they saw ducks etc" is a complete thought.

    THE SEMICOLON: It takes some practice to really know how to use the semicolon correctly; when in doubt, leave it out, and either use a comma (a pause) or a period (to separate complete thoughts).

    Bob, Linda, George, and Susan went to the lake, where they saw ducks, geese, turtles, and a sasquatch; the sasquatch looked a lot like Linda; so George snapped a picture.

    I'm not gonna bore and confuse you with talk about "conjunctions" and "prepositions" and all that. The above is incorrect. Always ask yourself if the phrase that you "fence off" with a semicolon could stand alone as a sentence. "So George snapped a picture" is not a complete thought, but only part of one. If we changed it thusly:

    Bob, Linda, George, and Susan went to the lake, where they saw ducks, geese, turtles, and a sasquatch. The sasquatch looked a lot like Linda; George snapped a picture.

    Then it is correct. The semicolon in this case is taking the place of the word "so" which links the two complete thoughts "the sasquatch looked a lot like Linda" and "George snapped a picture".

    I am hella busy right now but I hope this brief explanation is helpful to you. If you have questions let me know. Have fun! yours in Chaos, Scarlett
     
  5. Scattercat
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    Scattercat Active Member

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    Something a little lighter which still has a lot of useful information is Eats, Shoots, and Leaves by Lynne Truss. It's half grammar manual, half comedic essay.
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Semicolons can also separate items in a list, particularly when the individual list items contain commas:
    Most new writers overuse semicolons. They also overuse commas and conjunctiobs too, stringing together clauses into labyrinthine sentences that take up a full paragraph.

    Heavily using semicolons is a compromise between the compound sentece with commas and conjunctions, and fully separating the sentence with a full stop, It's wishy-washy.

    Use the full stop. Assert yourself. Simplify the sentences.
     
  7. Puppet121
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    Puppet121 Member

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    Thanks everyone! I'll see if I get get a hold if a few if those books over the weekend.
     
  8. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    keep this in your favorites:

    http://owl.english.purdue.edu/handouts/grammar/g_overvw.htm

    it's better/easier/quicker than asking here, although our kind members are always willing to jump in with advice and help...

    plus, it's instantly gettable, doesn't cost you a thing...

    here's the grammar/style equivalent:

    http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~jlynch/Writing/index.html

    and for verb confusion:

    http://leo.stcloudstate.edu/grammar/tenses.html


    love and hugs, maia
     

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