1. ScaryPen
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    ScaryPen Active Member

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    The Dreaded Semi Colon

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by ScaryPen, Oct 11, 2007.

    I've read some real good books on punctuation but I still remain confused about the use of semi colons. Though its bad enough in prose, I get absolutely confused when it's used in poetry :confused: Can someone explain in simple terms with EXAMPLES the use of the semicolon? Please.
     
  2. Weaselword
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    Weaselword Banned

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  3. ScaryPen
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    ScaryPen Active Member

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    Thanks weaselword :)
     
  4. ScaryPen
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    ScaryPen Active Member

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    One more thing. I'm confused with the colon as well, in poetry that is. Deciphering poetry has become hard because I don't understand the use of both the colon and semi colon. People, please help.
     
  5. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    To my mind and put simply the semicolon is used to join two full and complete sentences (not clauses) together. The point is that these two sentences are very closely linked to one another. You wouldn'd do it otherwise.

    e.g. After deliberating for a while he went home; he was ill.

    The colon is used differently but similarly as the name may suggest. It is used to explain or clarify what has gone before and in also in list type description. Obviously ehat comes before and after the colon should also be very closely linked.

    To my mind what follows a colon shouldn't be a grammatical sentence.

    It had been a long day so he went home: the long way home.

    There will be other instances too but I think I'm right with what I've said here, if not someone will correct I'm sure! And if not, I've been using them wrong for quite a while!
     
  6. Scavenger
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    Scavenger Senior Member

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    Colons in prose are used almost exclusively for lists, or to lead into an example or something like that. They aren't used terribly often, but if you're writing a paper and you want to quote something, I often format it like this:

    In the second chapter, the author examines the differences between pineapple and bananas:
    In poetry, I wasn't aware there were rules for grammar, but grammar instead becomes a tool to be used stylistically. Semi-colons would be used to join two lines or stanzas together and signify that they are closely linked, and colons to establish that the following line(s) is/are perhaps clarifying on or expanidng upon the established idea. They can also be used for fluency's sake, and to set the pace at which a reader should progress through a poem.
     
  7. Seanachie
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    Seanachie Member

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    For prose usage:


    SEMICOLON
    The semicolon is used to separate two sentences instead of a full stop, usually because the two sentences are closely linked. They must, however, both be complete main clauses on their own (ie stand alone as complete sentences).

    Example:

    Jack looked up at the sky; dark clouds indicated a storm was on the way.

    A good means of double-checking whether a semicolon is appropriate is to insert a full stop or a conjunction. If these work, so will a semicolon. But you should only use it to link two closely related sentences.

    You can also use a semicolon if the second clause emphasises the main one.

    Example:

    Tom won an award for bravery; it was presented by the mayor.

    In this case, the second clause will not stand alone as a sentence, but as it is used to expand on/emphasise the main clause, the two may be linked by a semicolon.

    The secondary clause might as easily be emphasising a contrast:

    Example:

    Jane passed the test with excellent marks; Mary failed.


    Lastly, semicolons can be used in complex sentences.

    Example:

    Because it rained, they stayed indoors; they played backgammon.


    COLON
    The colon is used to introduce examples relating to the previous sentence.

    Example:

    The drought had lasted for months: the ground was parched, animals were dying, and there were no crops left to harvest.


    It might introduce a list.

    Example:

    I am auctioning some of my things: an old armoire, a balloon back chair, a Victorian painting, and a silver teaset.

    Sometimes a colon is used to emphasise two main clauses.

    Example:

    To err is human: to forgive, divine.

    Finally, it is sometimes used to reinforce the preceeding statement.

    Example:

    I don't know how to cook: I always burn everything I make.



    For poetry, I have always thought punctuation was punctuation; I would expect each item to conform to the standard usage as in prose.

    I hope you find this helpful.
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    This is actually poor usage. Instead, you should write:
    Semicolons can also separate complex list items within a sentence, particularly when the list items must contain commas. However, that usually indicates that the sentence should be restructured to simplify it anyway. Here is a possible exception:
    The principal guideline about using semicolons is not to use them. You can always rewrite the sentence to avoid them. In the example of joining two related complete sentences to emphasize a comparison, you can always replace the semicolon with a comma and a conjunction:
    becomes:
    Independent sentences joined with a semicolon can always be separated with a period instead (capitalizing the first word of the second sentence.
    becomes:
    You can emphasize the connection with parallel structure instead:
    Semicolons CAN be the better choice, of course. That's why they exist in the first place. But they should be used very rarely, if at all.
     
  9. Scavenger
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    Scavenger Senior Member

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    I disagree. I think that the use of semi-colons and the frequency of said use depends entirely on the writing style. For formal, non-fiction works, then semi-colons are generally not used. However, for creative works, especially ones written either in SoC format, the romantic style of the nineteenth century, or anything that attempts a stylistic fluency not achieved with the usual choppiness of short, simple sentences, then semi-colons are your best friend. You would argue that there are other ways to achieve this, and that semi-colons are not the sole method of a smooth, flowing writing style, and I would agree. However, does the fact that another method exists constitute reason to say that semi-colons should not be used? And then, in that case, what makes these other methods more acceptable than semi-colons? Why should people not utilize a convention available to them simply because another exists (obviously this logic does not apply in all cases, but for now, I think it fits).
     
  10. Seanachie
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    Cogito,

    The examples quoted are not my own but come from a respected book on punctuation usage. In this, the use of the semicolon is encouraged, sparingly, to provide variety to one's writing by creating a range of sentence patterns. One can, naturally, avoid them.

    Regards,
    Seanachie
     
  11. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i'm with cog all the way on this... in re poetry, i don't use either except in very rare cases and don't recommend their use, as ellipses and em dashes do a better job there, when a comma or period isn't good enough...
     
  12. ScaryPen
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    ScaryPen Active Member

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    Seems like apart from the few basic rules, semi colons and colons are more of a stylistic preference.And I thought the world of grammar and punctuation was all black and white.
    *sigh*
     
  13. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    My description of when semicolons are syntacticaly correct are from the Little, Brown Handbook, although the specific examples are not. Semicolons are both overused and widely misused in non-professional writing. Most writers clearly understand the use of periods, and to a lesser degree, commas. But semicolons are often thrown in where a comma or a period should have been placed instead, more or less as a default punctuation mark where a pause "sounds right".

    An occasional semicolon, placed correctly, is not a bad thing. But if your writing is sprinkled liberally with them, you are almost certainly misusing them.

    My advice for anyone still developing their writing would be the same as using any other stylistic element that goes against the mainstream: don't do it. Learn to write well with a very conservative style, and then when you fully understand when it is okay to make an exception, only then use the different approach sparingly. It is very important to examine the result closely to discern whether the variance from the direct approach actually improves the writing.

    I use semicolons. I don't use them often in deliberate writing, by which I mean any creative work that I would actually proofread and revise before offering it to others, but I do use them occasionally, and with all deliberation. In casual writing, such as chatting, I use them more often and less carefully.

    It doesn't really pay to be too much of a maverick in writing style. Put that wild energy into the story instead of the SPAG!
     
  14. ScaryPen
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    ScaryPen Active Member

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    Thank you everyone!Really guys, this helped a lot. This really cleared a lot of things in my head. I also realized I need to rush to the bookstore and find a really good punctuation guide. Mammamaia and Cogito, your advice on frugal use of the semicolon makes sense to me. I think with more writing practice and observation of other people's works, I'll have some confidence about proper usage.

    Psst... Can anyone tell me where on my keyboard I'd find the long dash(not hyphen) *embarrassed*
    Someone said ALT+SHIFT+hyphen but it doesn't work.
     
  15. Scavenger
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    Scavenger Senior Member

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    I think that if you're using Word, just putting two hyphens together will automatically create a long dash.

    however, I hate the look of that one, so you can also put a space, then the hyphen, and then another space, and then Word will elongate the hyphen, but not so much that's it's that huge long dash.

    Examples:

    Hyphen: -
    Long Dash: --
    Semi-long Dash: he jumped - the fox scared him.

    I know it doesn't elongate the hyphen here, and that that's an improper use of it anyway, but if you're using Word, that should make it longer than normal, but not gigantic. Up to you.

    Cheers.
     
  16. ScaryPen
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    ScaryPen Active Member

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    Thanks :D
    I snooped around word and discovered in that the long dash can be done with
    Ctrl+ - (the subtraction sign in the num pad)
    even longer dash
    Alt+ Ctrl + -
     
  17. dwspig2
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    dwspig2 Member

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    I don't think it's an issue of how it looks. It's an issue about what is right. I think the long dash is correct. Perhaps the shorter, quasi-hyphen is also correct in some areas, but I think that in most cases you want the longer dash. It has to do with the fact that it's smushed up against the proceeding and preceding words. That's what think. I could be totally wrong, but I know it has nothing to do with how it looks.
     
  18. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    for mss that will be submitted, use the double hyphen, as some fonts' em dashes are hard to distinguish from a hyphen and the agent/editor can't mistake a double hyphen... that's a standard ms format 'rule' anyway... sure, it's left over from the typewriter days, since those keyboards didn't have the em dash, but still makes sense today, for the reason stated...
     
  19. dwspig2
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    dwspig2 Member

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    The overuse of any particular punctuation mark is bad, in my opinion.

    Dashes can be quite effective, but having them too much makes them simply annoying. The same goes for semicolons, colons, commas, quotation marks, and exclamation points. I never really heard of apostrophes being used to much, but I suppose one could. Periods seem almost a necessity, so I think you're safe whilst using them.
     
  20. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    so, you've never noticed how many use them for making plural's [sic]?
     
  21. Weaselword
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    Weaselword Banned

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