1. jakeybum
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    jakeybum Member

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    Semicolon usage in quoted dialogue

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by jakeybum, Aug 27, 2015.

    Is it taboo to use a semicolon in quoted dialogue? I heard that it was.

    For example,

    Harry said, "I am going to the supermarket; I'll be back later."

    I'm told to use a dash, instead of a semicolon, there.

    What's the deal with the semicolon prohibition in quotes?
     
  2. Aaron DC
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    Aaron DC Contributing Member

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    No.

    You tell me. Who said it's prohibited, and why are you paying any attention to them?
     
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  3. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't like the use of semi-colons in dialogue. Seems unnatural. You can't hear a semi-colon and I agree a dash is definitely called for here.
     
  4. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I've never heard of such a prohibition, but I personally would probably not use one in the manner in which you have shown here. In this usage, the semicolon is denoting a close conjoining of idea or concept in the two sentences. This feels very technical and narrative oriented, like a footnote that I'm giving to the reader. Putting it in a piece of dialogue feels like a small transgression of authorial intrusion. A dash would have been my choice since it's more descriptive of the pace and manner of spoken delivery, or frankly, a simple period (full stop). I'm rather reserved as regards the more esoteric uses of punctuation. Too often (but not always) they feel out of place and affected.
     
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  5. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I'm with Our Jud and Wreybies; I'd go for a full stop instead. ;)
     
  6. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    You can't hear a dash either.

    The only ones you can hear, are the comma and the full stop as they indicate a pause or a stop.

    So long as it's used in the correct way, there's no reason why you can't use a colon or a semi-colon in dialogue.
     
    Last edited: Aug 27, 2015
  7. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is what I meant, but I'm not clever enough to have put it into these words.
     
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  8. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    Full stop after supermarket wouldn't work as it's not the end of the sentence.
     
  9. Aaron DC
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    Aaron DC Contributing Member

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    I'm heading out.
    I'll be back later.

    Dunno I reckon it is.
     
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  10. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, you can, but I suppose only as much as you can hear a semi-colon. A dash, to me at least, makes me hear: 'slight pause before qualifying what I just said, and ending the sentence fully'.

    I agree definitely not a full stop after supermarket.
     
    Last edited: Aug 27, 2015
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  11. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    It's perfectly grammatically correct to use semicolons in dialogue. However, unless the quote is from a formal speech, I think I would try to find something else. A semicolon in the middle of dialogue calls attention to itself, and may not quite convey casualness of speech.

    A semicolon (when separating two independent clauses) is used to thematically link the two. It doesn't represent any particular length of pause, but rather says something about the meaning of the two linked clauses. That works well when you're reading it. You know the thought isn't finished yet, when you're reading along and see the semicolon. However, I'm not quite sure how that works in speech—because you can't actually 'hear' a semicolon when a speaker is saying it, can you? Dialogue reproduces how people actually speak, so it seems a little out of place. Whenever I see it in dialogue, it does look 'funny.' However ...if you want to, there's no reason you can't. More power to your arm.
     
  12. Bookster
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    Bookster Banned

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    I would say you can, but I'd rather you didn't. I would use a period between the two sentences in your example.
     
  13. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    No, not a period because it's one sentence, not two independent sentences.
     
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  14. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    The first thing you need to do, is find out what each punctuation mark is supposed to be used for as each one: comma, colon, semi-colon, period, dash, em-dash, en-dash, has their own job to do which shouldn't be confused with another punctuation mark. You could also add exclamation and question marks to the list - if you really want to; and lets not forget the ellipses, interrobang and - if we must - the brackets ...
     
  15. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    If it was the end of the sentence, there wouldn't be a question of whether or not to use a semi-colon.

    As this is in dialogue, I guess you could split it into two separate sentences if the character speaking is one who always speaks in short, snappy, fragmented sentences.

    Hmmm.
     
  16. Bookster
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    Bookster Banned

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    Maybe I'm a little dense this morning, but I can't see any reason it couldn't be two sentences.

    I am going to the supermarket. I'll be back later.

    What am I missing?
     
  17. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    There's no reason you can't use a semicolon in dialogue where appropriate. I think this example would work better as two separate sentences. A semicolon is used in examples like this to link independent clauses. Independent clauses can also stand alone (i.e. they are independent), so there is no reason not to change this to a full stop if you want to. You can leave it as a semicolon if you prefer, but I think it is an odd example of a semicolon.
     
  18. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    ... but there's nothing fragmentary about these sentences. They're short, yes, but they are each complete.

    I am going to the supermarket.

    I'll be back later.


    Subject, verb, and complete predicate are present for both.
     
  19. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I like 'em. I use 'em. I suspect that semicolons are much more commonly used in dialogue in British novels, because they're much more commonly used in general in British novels. When I get closer to submitting something to an American publisher, I will have to have a heart-to-heart with myself about semicolons.
     
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  20. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes, a full stop can be used, but you're changing its tone and rhythm. If I read those two sentences, using a full stop as you have here, it would make me question the grammatical choice.

    It's not 'I am going to the supermarket. I'll be back later.'

    It's 'I'm going to the supermarket - I'll be back later.'
     
  21. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    There's nothing grammatically wrong with splitting it into two sentences because they're two full sentences.
     
  22. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    I read it differently with a full stop - maybe I'm reading too much into it.

    I'll explain:

    I'm going to the supermarket, I'll be back later. Once complete sentence which tells me the speaker will be coming straight back after the supermarket trip. They are in a good mood, the kind where you would then sing "byeeeee!" as you walk out the door.

    I'm going to the supermarket. I'll be back later. Comes across as two sharp sentences, from a moody person who may or may not be back straight after, the purchase of the groceries (or whatever) and definitely wouldn't be shouting "byeeee" on his way out.

    Oh, I've just realized, the first one comes cross as feminine whereas the second is very masculine - to me, that is.
     
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  23. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    They seem snappy, incomplete and short to me. Grammatically, they might not be wrong. Dialogually, it just doesn't sound right.

    I'm well aware 'dialogually' is a made up word.
     
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  24. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    The question isn't whether or not the line of dialogue can be split into two separate sentences, because that's not how the OP wants it to read.
     
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  25. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    Therefore, the question is, how does the OP want it to read?
     

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