1. Vivake Pathak
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    Vivake Pathak New Member

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    semicolons or commas?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Vivake Pathak, Feb 19, 2010.

    When items in a series involve internal punctuation, they should be separated by semicolons. Does this rule legitimize the use of semicolons in the sentence below?

    Under various degrees of influences of your desires, fears, likes, dislikes, feelings, and so on; keeping in view your capabilities, weaknesses, and qualities; assisted by your experience and knowledge; and using your farsightedness, you calculate the most appropriate option.
     
  2. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you want to make a long complex sentence with semicolons, as is occasionally still found in academic writing, you must be sure that the meaning is not obscured.

    Your sentence came over as absolutely meaningless, I'm afraid to say--and a large part of my working day is spent proofreading academic papers!
     
  3. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    This is an example of complicating a sentence to the point of obliterating its meaning. It simply must be rewritten in some way. Your clauses are not clauses, and your series are not equivalent, but I think you mean something like this ...

    Under various degrees of influences (from desires, fears, likes, dislikes, feelings, and so on) and keeping in view your capabilities, weaknesses, and qualities, you calculate the most appropropriate option with the asssistance of experience, knowledge, and farsightedness.

    The rule you're speaking of has to do with a series of examples, each example of which contains internal punctuation--

    There are many factors in making a decision: desires, fears, likes, dislikes, feelings, etc.; your capabilities, weaknesses, and qualities; your own experience, knowledge, and farsightendess.

    P.S.: What Madhoca said ...
     
  4. Vivake Pathak
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    Vivake Pathak New Member

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    1. If introductory phrases in a sentence have commas in them, is it correct to separate the phrases with semicolons instead of commas?

    2. Does the sentence make more sense if I replace the semicolons with commas? (Under various degrees of influences of your desires, fears, likes, dislikes, feelings and so on, keeping in view your capabilities, weaknesses and qualities, assisted by your experience and knowledge, and using your farsightedness, you calculate the most appropriate option.)
     
  5. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    1. If introductory phrases in a sentence have commas in them, is it correct to separate the phrases with semicolons instead of commas?No, a dependent clause is separated from the rest of the sentence by a comma. Like the following simple example ...

    On a cold, damp, foggy morning in late September, we loaded the family into the truck and drove from the mountains to the beach. [This has an introductory phrase ("On a cold, damp, foggy morning in late September") that includes commas. It is a dependent clause, which depends upon the rest of the sentence for its meaning as to "when" the action happened in this case). Which is to say the following with a semicolon would be INCORRECT: "On a cold, damp, foggy morning in late September; we loaded the family into the truck and drove from the mountains to the beach." Same is true of your more (overly) complicated example.]


    2. Does the sentence make more sense if I replace the semicolons with commas? (Under various degrees of influences of your desires, fears, likes, dislikes, feelings and so on, keeping in view your capabilities, weaknesses and qualities, assisted by your experience and knowledge, [no comma here]and using your farsightedness, you calculate the most appropriate option.)

    This could be construed as grammatically intact (except for the comma after "knowledge"). But it's cumbersome at the very least and presents miscues to the reader. IOW, the commas do not clarify the thought, which is simply too complex to be optimally understandable; a semicolon would render it completely meaningless. [NOTE: This latter, which I've separated from the rest by a semicolon, is an "independent clause" containing both a subject and a predicate].

    None of this has anything to do with the "rule" of separating (with a semicolon) items in a list that each contain internal punctuation (an example of which I think I gave you in my previous post).

    Remember that just because something is punctuated correctly does not mean it's understandable. Communicating effectively requires an understanding of both language usage and good grammar (which, itself, includes other kinds of things besides punctuation).
     
  6. Humour Whiffet
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    Humour Whiffet Banned

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    I've done a quick rewrite:


    The decisions we make in life are influenced by our desires, fears, dislikes, and experiences.
     
  7. cboatsman
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    cboatsman Senior Member

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    As has been said your sentence is way too complicated and confusing and can easily be rewritten. Whiffet gives you a good example and in my opinion sends a much stronger message than your original sentence without ever even considering a semicolon.

    Caleb
     
  8. Vivake Pathak
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    Vivake Pathak New Member

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    response from CMS

    I thank all of you for your valuable feedback and I understand the theme of your suggestion. I wanted to be dead sure about the grammatical correctness of the sentence in the original post, so I asked this question to Chicago Manual of Style:

    "According to 6.60 of fifteenth edition of CMS, when items in a series involve internal punctuation, they should be separated by semicolons. Does this rule legitimize the separation of a series of introductory phrases of a sentence if they have internal punctuation?

    For example, will it be grammatically correct to punctuate the following sentence:

    Under various degrees of influences of your desires, fears, likes, dislikes, feelings and so on, keeping in view your capabilities, weaknesses and qualities, assisted by your experience and knowledge, and using your farsightedness, you calculate the most appropriate option.

    as this:

    Under various degrees of influences of your desires, fears, likes, dislikes, feelings, and so on; keeping in view your capabilities, weaknesses, and qualities; assisted by your experience and knowledge; and using your farsightedness, you calculate the most appropriate option.

    ?"

    and this was their response:

    "Either way is fine, but the semicolons are not needed for easy comprehension, and they tend to bring the reader to a halt, so I don't recommend them.

    Thank you for writing--
    Staff"

    It is surprising for me too that such use of semicolon is grammatically correct.
     
  9. pinelopikappa
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    pinelopikappa Senior Member

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    :DGreat discussion
     
  10. kybudman
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    kybudman New Member

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    You've brought to the table a question which has had plenty of interesting discussion. Thank you for that. English is a language which does have a grammatical hierarchy occasionally difficult to remember. But we must also remember that this hierarchy has a very definite purpose. So long as (or until) the original intent of the words are correctly displayed, it (the hierarchy) must be correctly employed--even if it is an uncommon usage of that hierarchy. In the end, it is that same hierarchy which sends us signals of incompleteness, or obfuscation of meaning and/or intent in our writing. If our original intent is accurate communication of thought, the grammatical hierarchy can be of great help.

    That is, for me at least, a great comfort both as a writer and as an instructor of writing.
     
  11. Humour Whiffet
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    Humour Whiffet Banned

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    What that CMS rule is talking about is how to punctuation a sentence such as this:

    The shop sells socks that have the following stripes: red, blue, and white; green, blue, and black; yellow, white, and pink.


    Without the semi-colons it would be impossible to follow what was meant.

    But how to use a semi-colon is the least of your worries. You need to re-write your sentence because it’s too hard to follow. See my post above for a suggested re-write.
     
  12. Vivake Pathak
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    Vivake Pathak New Member

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    Well, now CMS staff itself says that the rule also applies to the separation of introductory phrases that have internal punctuation.

    As far as the suggestion of re-arranging and simplifying the sentence is concerned, I would say that as a part of a paragraph that tries to prove something or to bring out a conclusion, some sentences are bound to be written in a twisted, complex, or special way. For example, you can write this sentence:

    "So, it is the trucks that are mostly responsible for the wear and tear of the highways."

    also as

    "So, the trucks are mostly responsible for the wear and tear of the highways."

    but in certain contexts the first sentence suits best or is inevitable. So, it is the context and placement of a sentence that decides its right structure, which may seem weird and complex when you look only at the sentence separated from it paragraph, section, or chapter.
     
  13. Humour Whiffet
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    Humour Whiffet Banned

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    Yes, the CMS rule is common. It’s used to avoid what is sometimes referred to as “comma riot.” But you’re focussing on this semi-colon thing too much. Please just listen to us about the sentence. It’s not hard to understand because it’s out of context; it’s hard to understand because it’s too wordy and badly structured. It’s an effort to get through it.

    I suspect that what you are trying to do is write your sentence in “academic speak.” In other words, although what you’re saying is very simple, you’re trying to make it sound impressive by using a long, drawn-out sentence.
     
  14. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    and keep in mind that the cms is aimed at journalism, not 'creative' writing...
     

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