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  1. Fedora
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    Fedora Active Member

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    Semicolons and Coordinating Conjunctions

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Fedora, Sep 17, 2010.

    Can you use them together (even though the purpose of a semicolon is to combine two sentences without the need for a conjunction)? I've seen many older pieces of literature use a semicolon followed by "and," but I'm not sure if it's antiquated by today's standards. Would the conjunction just be taken as the first word of the second sentence?
     
  2. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm a bit weak on grammar.
    But, I would use one or the other.
    If the conjunction was ment to be the first word of the next sentence it sould start with a capitol letter.
    I thought a semicolon joined two clauses together.
     
  3. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    Since fiction allows sentences starting with conjunctions such as "and" and "but", I would say it is possible to use them with semicolons. It might be use when you want to provide a pause for effect.

    I like Penny's brother Tom; and her cousin Luke.

    Here, the second part is almost like an afterthought, something reluctantly added. The connotation will be totally different if there is no semi colon here.

    But I should warn you that this is my instinct saying.... I have no references to back me up. Perhaps you and others will correct me.
     
  4. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    in fiction, it's best to avoid using colons and semicolons altogether... in all instances, a period, comma, em dash, or conjunction will do a much better job...
     
  5. art
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    art Contributing Member Contributor

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    This strikes me as peculiar prejudice, mammamaia. I've just picked up a dozen or so authors off my shelves and all of them, bar Raymond Carver, use semi-colons. What's your thinking?
     
  6. Horizon Noise
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    Horizon Noise Member

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    I try to avoid them too but find myself introducing a couple at least every chapter. I think they should be avoided where possible because they communicate different things to different people. Everyone knows how to interpret a full stop, or a comma, but I doubt one in 50 readers would be able to describe how a semi-colon or colon differs from either.
     
  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    my thinking is what i wrote, art... that the alternatives are much better for the reader and are more appropriate to modern fiction for today's readers...

    to expand a bit on that, semicolons give the work a more formal or 'academic' look than is wanted by readers of fiction... another reason is the one horizon just noted... that readers today don't understand what a colon/semicolon is supposed to do... so, that old army axiom 'K.I.S.S.!' is best followed in this case...

    however, folks in the uk seem to be more accustomed to semicolon use in fiction than those in the us...
     
  8. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    Semicolons are posh; thou should not apply them in casual writing.
     
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    If you take the time to look, you'll find that advice on many writing sites and blogs, and in books and periodicals about writing. Minimize your use of colons and semicolons in fiction, and don't overuse them in nonfiction either.

    There are many situations in particular in which the use of semicolons is grammatically acceptable. However, there are few instances in which they should be used.
     
  10. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    So writers shouldn't use semicolons because readers don't know what they mean, and readers don't know what they mean because writers don't use them.

    I see.

    And another perfectly good punctuation mark heads for extinction, and English prose becomes that much more bland, insipid, and dull.

    I'm not on board with that advice. I say, use semicolons! But find out what they're for, first. There's a good little discussion of semicolons at

    http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/marks/semicolon.htm
     
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  11. art
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    art Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thanks mammamaia and others.

    I will say that not to use it solely because - crudely put - a portion of the readership is ignorant of its purpose, is not an argument I find particularly attractive. Should the writer likewise refrain from profound ideas and complex characterisations? There will likely come a time when commas pose a problem for some. Will it then be expedient to stop using commas?
     
  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    If that were the reason, I would agree. But a semicolon in its most common use, to separate two sentences incompletely, is weak and indecisive. Either fully separate them with a period, or link them with a comma and a conjunction.

    The other main use of semicolons is separating compund items in a list, particularly if the items must contain commas. In fiction, that level of complexity within a sentence is a clear sign you should be simplifying your sentence. Even in nonfiction and formal writing, you should consider simplifying.
     
  13. art
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    art Contributing Member Contributor

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    You think them weak and indecisive.
    I think them useful in the management of pace and tempo and am far from alone in thinking so.
     
  14. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    This would be true if simplicity were the goal. But it isn't. The goal is artistic success, however the author defines that. I don't mean to say that sentences should be so complicated that readers can't understand them, but let's face it: simplicity does not guarantee readability and complexity does not guarantee incomprehensibility.

    Separating compound items in a list, especially when those items contain commas, is something that semicolons do very well. It's probably easier, in most cases, to read such a list than it is to read a passage in which the poor writer bent over backwards to avoid semicolons.

    Hear, hear!

    Seconded most heartily!
    :)
     
  15. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Clarity trumps complexity. Simpler is clearer.

    Pace and tempo are best modulated by choice of words and by sentence structure. The tempo control offered by splicing sentences with a semicolon instead of separating them with a period is minimal.

    Bottom line - the heavy use of semicolons is frowned upon in fiction. You may find some publishers who don't care much one way or the other, but you will find others who despise them.

    You won't find publishers who will turn up their nose because you didn't use enough semicolons.
     
  16. art
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    art Contributing Member Contributor

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    True. You will also find publishers who will turn down a piece because it lacks elegance, depth and subtlety.

    That which is 'minimal' to you, is an opportunity to create something beautiful to another.

    So it goes.
     
  17. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    This is not always true. Clarity and complexity are, in a sense, orthogonal; it's possible for a sentence or a paragraph to be complex and very clear, especially if the ideas being discussed are subtle and nuanced. And simplicity does not always result in clarity when precision is required. Oversimplification is always dangerous, because it can communicate thoughts and moods that are very different from the ones the writer intends.

    I like this quote from Lewis Thomas:

    "I have grown fond of semicolons in recent years. . . . It is almost always a greater pleasure to come across a semicolon than a period. The period tells you that that is that; if you didn't get all the meaning you wanted or expected, anyway you got all the writer intended to parcel out and now you have to move along. But with a semicolon there you get a pleasant little feeling of expectancy; there is more to come; read on; it will get clearer."
     
  18. Fedora
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    Fedora Active Member

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    That solves that. Thanks, mate.
     
  19. art
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    art Contributing Member Contributor

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    What larks!


    I use it. I've no feelings about it - it's just there. People actually get worked up about that kind of ****e, do they? I don't f****** believe it. They should get a f****** life or a proper job. They've got too much time on their hands, to think about nonsense.
    - Irvine Welsh

    ;)
     
  20. Horizon Noise
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    Horizon Noise Member

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    I described my usage of, and opinions on, semi-colons and colons. Quite what you're trying to achieve with your sarcasm is beyond me, although if you're making the point that the writer's purpose is to educate their readers in grammar rather than tell a good story, well, good luck with that approach.
     
  21. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I'm trying to rescue the useful, though much maligned (around here, anyway), semicolon from the dumpster.

    Please avoid straw-man arguments. I never said that. Believe it or not, many wonderful stories have been written using semicolons. Look for them; they're there. And they don't poison the prose, either.
     
  22. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Enough!
     
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