1. yarn
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    yarn New Member

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    semi colons

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by yarn, Nov 29, 2010.

    Hi I'm new here and just wondered if anyone might be able to give me some feedback on the use of semi-colons; I may be guilty of over using them . . . oops there goes one right there!
     
  2. SRCroft
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    SRCroft Member

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    Semicolon

    There is no unbreakable rule about the quantity of semi-colons in a story or paper.
    (In fact, grammar rules exist to transfer contextual meaning and inflection to the reader. Therefore, grammar--besides several unbreakable rules--is fluid. The rules mostly relay a guideline that fits most situations. The fluidity of grammar is not up to the writer's discretion. You only break a rule, when and if, the best way of relaying your contextual meaning is accomplished by doing so. If there is another option that follows the rules, you are obligated to choose it.)

    Now, back to the issue at hand. If a semicolon is needed, use it. If not, avoid using them.
    Obviously, the semicolon is used to combine two complete sentences, but it also does more. So, why would you use it?

    ADVICE: Don't use them because your sentence is too short, or just because you can.


    In the following example, the semicolon adds a longer pause than a comma, but keeps each complete thought connected, because it connects a bigger thought.
    e.g. "Rage isn't something you feel; it's something that fills you."

    Use a semicolon before introductory words such as 'namely, however, therefore, that is, for instance, for example, i.e., or e.g.', when they introduce a complete sentence. It is also preferable to use a comma after the introductory word.
    e.g. You will want to bring many writer's items; for example, pens, paper, and a dictionary.

    Use the semicolon to separate units of a series when one or more of the units contain commas.
    e.g. Everyone has come from, Cherry Hill, New Jersey; the Bronx, New York; and Las Vegas, Nevada.


    In essence, I am saying that semicolons are used to solve literary problems and clarify thoughts. Using it just for the sake of deleting a conjunction is not the best way, or suggested. If you can avoid it, by all means try.

    In your sentence for example, it could be expressed:
    "Hi, I'm new here and would appreciate feedback on the proper usage of semi-colons; I may be guilty of over using them--oops, there's an example right there!"
    (...), an ellipse means your words are trailing off. This means you're implying that you said more that wasn't important to our knowledge.
    If you want to interrupt yourself, use (--), which is what I believe is what you meant to inflect.


    Also using, (might be able), is a pet peeve. (Might be able) is more equivalent to: Possibly have had the ability. May is equivalent to: Possibly has the ability to help you.
    I also changed some of the words (like, goes one) because they are understood, typical cultural uses, but they actually are confused applications. Semi-colons can't go anywhere. Semi-colons can be used or be placed.

    "and just wondered": It's not that you can't use this in cultural dialect, but throwing in another tense for thought clarification wasn't necessary. You had obviously just thought about the issue. Always try to remove redundant thoughts. Plus you are combing action or though narrative with actual words.

    If you it's extremely important to let people know, (usually out of polite banter), that you gave it thought, reflecting that you deem the recipient worthy of helping you, you can rephrase the sentence structure.
    e.g. Being new to this forum, I was thinking that someone may be able to give me some feedback; I think I may have a problem with overusing semi-colons.
    (Use 'may' not 'might', because someone didn't help you yet.)


    One Last useful tip:
    There are many unclear situations for using semi-colons and choosing words and tenses; for instance, may, might, is, are, was, and had.
    If I find it unclear, I always try to restructure the sentence in a few ways or simplify the thought first. This usually reveals the correct word choices.

    e.g. Therefore, grammar--besides several unbreakable rules--is fluid.

    The word "is" can be confused with "are" or "becomes", if you don't remove the middle piece and reread.

    Therefore, grammar is fluid.
    Therefore, grammar are fluid.
    Therefore, grammar is now changing into fluid. (Makes no sense)

    (becomes fluid is incorrect because, it has already been fluid. Maybe people use 'becomes' as an indicator that the word means 'whatever was said previous is a catalyst that changes it to', but actually you are saying it means that it 'is now changing into'.

    You could also argue that my use of fluid as an analogy is wrong and that I should have used flexible. I chose fluid as a contextual analogy that I felt better relays my point of view. As a writer, you have the wonderful option to be crafty with anthropomorphic use of non-living objects. Although, I should have put fluid-like, it takes away from the feel of the sentence.


    None of my explanation was meant to sound like I am beating you up over small dialect issues, but you are a writer. I make constant mistakes, but your post had given me an opportunity to point a few issues that I thought may be helpful to you or others.

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

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    in fiction, there's no good reason to use either the colon or semicolon, though in more formal times past they were therein employed and may still be by some in the uk...

    in all cases, a comma, period, em dash, or conjunction will do a much better job imo and not annoy/confuse readers who're not used to seeing them in fiction...
     
  4. SRCroft
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    SRCroft Member

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    Still

    I don't totally disagree, however, using always, never, in all cases and words that mean those types of things are a pet peeve. It's a pretty rigid way of looking at a flexible language. Even linguists state that contextual meaning outweighs grammar rules at some points.

    Back to semi-colons. Even in fiction there are cases you use the semi-colon, where em dashes won't feel as nice:
    e.g. I lived in all sorts of places; for example, Las Vegas, Nevada; Phoenix, Arizona; and Peanut, Peanuttree.

    Semi-colon's like mammamaia says are more formal, but many authors have used them and still do. Stephen King loves to talk about places, list multiple items, and interject sentences within sentences. For the interlaced sentences, I love to use EM dashes, but some people like the semi-colon way. Still, as I said, they only use them when they really have to, or they are doing it for some contextual reason.
     
  5. DisFanJen
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    DisFanJen Member

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    I'd like to thank you for this thread and the replies.

    I'm pretty much self taught where SPaG is concerned apart from the basics as due to issues I don't want to go through right now, my formal education was spotty. So it was only after I joined the real world of business and commerse it became apparent I was useful for something more than saying 'Do you want fries with that?' :)

    I think I've managed to get most of the basics sorted, though not a grammarian by any means, however the more obscure things like semi colons really are a mystery to me.

    So this has been a great help, thanks again.
     
  6. SRCroft
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    SRCroft Member

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    No problem :)

    Anytime, my pleasure. Many rules in grammar are tricky. Some are just beat up by cultural and daily use. What makes it harder is that even country to country, rules vary. There are some really talented grammar enthusiasts on the boards, (me not being one), but when I can I like to help.
     
  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    please note that i did not use 'always' or 'never'... 'in all cases' happens to be true in re fiction imo, is not just a 'pet peeve' claim... as for using them for a series as you demonstrated, shouldn't a semicolon-separated series begin after a full colon, not a semicolon?... anyway, i wouldn't include a formal series like that in fiction, though you and mr. king might... different strokes..................

    hugs, m
     
  8. SRCroft
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    SRCroft Member

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    Different Strokes

    'In all cases', does mean 'always', but your right, you didn't say the word 'never'. I was just listing that 100% definitive words automatically send up caution flags in an argument, especially since grammar has many exceptions.

    I don't mind other opinions or styles:
    (I believe there is always a "T"ruth and "t"ruths, the [t] being what each decides for him/herself, and [T] being the one cosmic answer that will/would never be agreed upon.) I would be remiss to state that there was any 100% definitive answer in a society with more than one person. If you were to reply that using semi-colons in fiction is probably the best avoidable choice, and the most advisable one, I definitely could have agreed.

    As you said, you can probably use a colon in the place of a semi-colon when starting a list. However, you still would have to separate each section containing, double words separated with commas, with a semi-colon.

    I agree, different strokes, absolutely make for great and stylistic variety of fiction. I don't think that the semi-colon is as confusing as you say, when compared to the use of constant ellipses and no capitalization. But, it's a style, I just wouldn't use informal construction in fiction, essay, or posts, but different strokes...
     

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