1. Grumps
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    Grumps Member

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    Simple punctuation of speech.

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Grumps, Jun 6, 2008.

    Hi All

    My daughter's writing a short story and has written this speech:

    “You must breath deeply, it is not an unpleasant perfume, open your mouth and fill your lungs."

    It looks wrong, MSWord thinks it's wrong, but why? Should the commas be semi-colons?
    Thanks.
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Ideally, the commas should be periods, with the next letter capitalized.

    If you want the second and third clauses to connect more tightly, you could write:
    The question has little to do with speech, though. It has to do with general sentence structure. The only way that speech enters into it is that breaking grammar rules in dialogue is accepted as a way of coloring the character. However, that leeway should be limited to differences that a listener could hear, so spelling "to" when you mean "two" would not qualify.

    Some punctuation changes are audible, others are not particularly. Errors distract the reader, so you want to avoid them in dialogue unless they are intended to be noticeable. Even then, use sparingly.
     
  3. Lucy E.
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    Lucy E. Contributing Member

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    As Cogito said, it's to do with sentence structure rather than the fact that it's dialogue. Use one of Cogito's suggestions above.
    Also, does your daughter mean 'breathe'? 'Breath' is a noun, 'breathe' is a verb.
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Oops, thanks. I did notice that, but then forgot. :redface:
     
  5. Lucy E.
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    Lucy E. Contributing Member

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    No problem.
    I didn't believe for one second that you hadn't noticed. ;)
     
  6. Grumps
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    Grumps Member

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    Thanks to you both.
    My typo. It should be 'breathe' .
     
  7. Lucy E.
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    Lucy E. Contributing Member

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    No problem. :)
     
  8. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    a semicolon should not be used anywhere in that, as it's dialog, not narrative... just commas or periods... or, if a pause is wanted, an ellipsis... like this:

    “You must breathe deeply, it is not an unpleasant perfume. Open your mouth and fill your lungs."

    or

    “You must breathe deeply. It is not an unpleasant perfume. Open your mouth and fill your lungs."

    or

    “You must breathe deeply...it is not an unpleasant perfume. Open your mouth and fill your lungs."

    i'd also question the use of 'perfume' unless it's really a perfume that's being sniffed... if not, then 'scent' or 'odor' or other more general terms for a 'smell' would be best...
     
  9. Lucy E.
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    Lucy E. Contributing Member

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    All ordinary punctuation can be used in dialogue, can't it?...here, anyway.
     
  10. Grumps
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    Grumps Member

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    I did a google and found this:
    http://thebookshelfmuse.blogspot.com/2008/05/grammar-answers-round-2.html


    So, I guess, if my daughter wants this to be her style, then she'll use semicolons.
     
  11. Lucy E.
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    Lucy E. Contributing Member

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    I read a lot of books in which semicolons are used in dialogue, and I don't find it annoying at all. I guess it's just a matter of what you prefer.
     
  12. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    will you give us a few titles, please?...
     
  13. Lucy E.
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    Lucy E. Contributing Member

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    Sure, Maia. But I'm at my aunt's house at the mo so I only have Welsh books with me (she doesn't speak English).

    Ceri Grafu, by Bethan Gwanas.
    Tan ar y Comin, by T. Llew Jones.
    Plas y Wernen, by T. Llew Jones.

    Those are the only ones I can find on my aunt's near-empty bookshelf, but I'll look for more when I get home.
     
  14. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Maia, I wondered about what you said also. I haven't dug into my writing guides yet, but do you have a reference you could point me to? I've never heard that semicolons should not be used in dialogue specifically.
     
  15. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thank you Grumps and mammamaia. I particularly liked the reasoning put forth in the quote provided by Grumps. I extracted this section below and added it to my personal "How to write" notes under Semicolons/dialog:

    "Readers implicitly know how to shape the sound of a line of dialogue that ends in a period. There is a finality. A comma lends a slight pause, an intake of breath. Ellipses help us to hear a voice trailing off. An em dash is a sudden cessation of speech. An exclamation mark shouts. A question mark lilts the text. What is the sound of a semicolon?"

    I never knew why, but I have always intuitively avoided semicolons in dialog. They just didn't read smoothly. Now, I know why!

    .....NaCl
     
  16. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    OMG - I use the Purdue University Online Writing Lab as a good source for grammar research. I just did a Google search under "Purdue semicolon in dialog". This was the first response:

    "Developing Custom Tools for Manure Management Planner"

    I just about fell out of my chair laughing.

    .....NaCl
     
  17. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    hilarious!... i use the same site, salty... found it to be the best on the web... you clearly need a lesson in how to google, m'dear... searching for 'semicolon use in dialog purdue' turned up what you were looking for: http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=semicolon+use+in+dialog+purdue

    cog, as for rules and regs, i don't know if there's one etched in stone, but as an editor and mentor, it's definitely one of my rules... for a variety of reasons, including all those noted in that very fine article that i've also added to my list of info for writers...

    lucy... i don't know why it would be acceptable in welsh, but as far as i know, it is not generally okay in english...
     
  18. Lucy E.
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    Lucy E. Contributing Member

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    Welsh and English grammar is identical. We learned that in primary. We only cover grammar in Welsh lessons because it's the same in English.
     
  19. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    But my method produces far more cheap entertainment!

    .....NaCl
     
  20. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    true!

    lucy... as i said, i don't know if it's etched in stone anywhere, and i'm not up on editorial preferences in gb, but in the us, the use of semicolons in dialog is definitely frowned upon... and if you want to appear to be a professional writer, you won't use them in material you submit to us agents/publishers...
     
  21. Lucy E.
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    Lucy E. Contributing Member

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    Okay, thanks for your help, Maia. :)
     

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