1. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Punctuation Semicolons: How to use them and why you should

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by minstrel, Mar 12, 2015.

    Here is an article I just came across explaining (and defending!) the much-maligned but wonderful semicolon.

    Thoughts?
     
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  2. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    My only thought is that I can understand where the admittedly overstated and over emphasized "rule against its use" arises. One can conceivably argue all kind of connections from one sentence to the next that would lead one to believe that enough kinship was had between the two to justify a semicolon (giving rise to overuse) when really the point is being stretched over far. Like anything, correct use is correct use and, as the author asks/states in the opening of the article, doesn't really need defense.

    Kurt Vonnegut, on the other hand: “Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.”

    Shocking. :dry:

    Do we have a drunken university story to tell, Kurt? Did we wake up to transvestite hermaphrodite coyote arm? Last night's hook-up not turn out to be what you thought in the light of day? Shame, that.
     
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  3. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I like semicolons. Just like any other mark of punctuation, they cause your brain to make certain connections to what has been written. That's all. They are neither the spawn of the devil nor a must-use device. They are a tool.
     
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2015
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  4. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I think the reason more people don't use them is because proper semicolon usage isn't taught very much in schools. I remember spending only a small amount of time learning semicolons, and it wasn't until my senior year in high school that I really became comfortable using them. The advice of my teachers was to use a period or a comma + conjunction instead. :rant:
     
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  5. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    If that is what happened then that's a weirdly specific rite of passage for university students. :p
     
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  6. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Well, for him to have used such a florid and egregious description, one is given to believe that it was drawn from life. ;)
     
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  7. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    When talking about the halcyon days of university, most things are drawn from real life. You can't make some of that stuff up! :p
     
  8. Nilfiry
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    Nilfiry Contributing Member

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    I use semicolons all the time where suitable or appropriate. I really do not understand how this trend of avoidance started. Sometimes I think people are just avoiding them because a few prominent figures do not like them, and everyone is just following suit. Either way, it is pretty ridiculous to purposely avoid a particular punctuation for no reason if said punctuation would be used correctly.

    If we want to talk about punctuation misuse and abuse, how about we ban the comma instead? I would rather see a bunch of simple sentences than a bunch of run-on sentences being held together by a comma. That poor comma.
     
  9. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Semicolon/colon - becomes potato/po-tat-o in my head - so I usually call the whole thing off and use a comma.
    But I like the looks of a semicolon - it kinda reminds me of a standing lamp throwing a spotlight on the end of the sentence.
     
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  10. HelloThere
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    HelloThere Contributing Member

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    My English teacher beamed like a proud mother when I started using semi-colons correctly.
     
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  11. Chinspinner
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    Chinspinner Contributing Member Contributor

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    I hate that bloody song. No-one pronounces it po-tar-toe. The lyrics should be "you say potato and I have a hideous speech impediment."

    As for semicolons, I love them and spend a lot of time having to remove them.
     
  12. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I get mean and angry when I hear about teachers advising their students not to use semicolons because the students are too ignorant to use them properly. Why doesn't the teacher just teach them to use semicolons? Same kind of thing with adverbs. In fact, at the risk of sounding like a hoary old fart, I think schools should spend some time teaching the use of rhetorical devices: chiasmus, metonymy, synecdoche, and all the rest of those Greek thingies. Modern prose wouldn't be so flat and blunt if people knew how to write with nuance, grace, and a measure of dignity.
     
  13. HelloThere
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    HelloThere Contributing Member

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    Oh my word :rofl: the funniest sentence in recorded history imho.
     
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  14. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    I use the semi-colon :s
    Is it really that weird?

    It's just the way I think, write and how I string my thoughts and phrases together.
    Without a semi-colon, I'd have so many stops and short phrases that make sense together but for some reason are disconnected...
     
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  15. Okon
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    Okon Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's a spice on the rack. I add it every now and then for variety.

    I've seen a ton of posts in the workshop simply use them wrong, though. While I'm fine with other intentional/unintentional grammar errors, I find the ones involving semicolons to be much less forgivable. Sometimes it feels like the writer gave up stringing sentences together, or got tired of using commas and thinks semis are the same thing.
     
  16. Swiveltaffy
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    Swiveltaffy Contributing Member Contributor

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    I hate semi-colons; they blow.
     
  17. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    So do whales, but whales are great.
     
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  18. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I'm away to the dictionary now, but you're right. Language has been dumbed down lately. At first it was just people's increasingly casual use of language that dumbed it down; now students are actually being taught to dumb it down. Hey. Eventually we'll have machines to do all our thinking and communicating for us, and we can just sit like lumps and watch the party.
     
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  19. plothog
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    plothog Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I add most of my semicolons during editing.
    I didn't know what they were for until a couple of years. They never told me at school, so they're not part of my natural writing style.
    Comma splices are part of my natural writing style :(. Sometimes I like my comma spliced flow enough that I edit it into a semicolon.
     
  20. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I like the idea of using semicolons to separate two sentences that are more closely connected in meaning than other sentences. If the thought in the first sentence isn't complete until the second one gets read, then it's a good time to use a semicolon. There is no other symbol that does the same thing. It signals ...wait, that thought is only half-stated, now here's the rest of it. I like using a semicolon for that purpose.

    I must say, I don't really use them for anything else, but I read other fiction writers who do, and have no problem with them. Like anything else, too many of them in too many places will become annoying, but exactly when that line gets crossed is a personal thing.
     
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2015
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  21. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Yes! Exactly! :)

    The only other place I use them is when I'm listing things that have commas in each list element. For example:

    On our last trip overseas, we visited London, England; Paris, France; Madrid, Spain; and Rome, Italy.

    You can't replace the semicolons with commas in that sentence, because it would look like we visited London AND England AND Paris AND France, etc., as if they were scattered all over the globe.
     
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  22. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, you're right. I just don't tend to write sentences like that in my fiction work.
     
  23. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Well, you'd better get started! You have a lot of catching up to do! :D
     
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  24. RachHP
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    RachHP Contributing Member

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    Thanks for the article @minstrel, I often ponder whether my fondness for semicolons is misplaced! It was encouraging to read someone else's affection for them.
     
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  25. tonguetied
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    tonguetied Contributing Member Contributor

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    And here I thought their prime purpose was to convert a spreadsheet into ASCII to denote the cells. ;)
     

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