1. Punctuate THIS!
    Offline

    Punctuate THIS! Member

    Joined:
    Sep 11, 2009
    Messages:
    61
    Likes Received:
    0

    The semicolon mystery

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Punctuate THIS!, Sep 14, 2009.

    I like complex sentences; I find them more conducive to the idea that i'm trying to convey (where a period might cap off the thought, before i've finished it). I hear tell that a semicolon can be used in place of comma (in a complex sentence), to void confusion for the reader. I was wondering if there was a rule or guideline to follow to identifying which comma is to be relplaced.

    Punctuate THIS!
     
  2. marina
    Offline

    marina Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2008
    Messages:
    1,280
    Likes Received:
    55
    Location:
    Seattle
    The rule would be whatever the rule normally is for when a semi-colon should be used.

    But you may want to take Kurt Vonnegut's advice if it applies:
    [FONT=&quot]

    [/FONT]
     
  3. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    gotta love vonnegut!

    imo, colons and semicolons have no place in fiction, despite the british proclivity for using them there... in all cases, a comma, period, em dash, or conjunction do a much better job...

    they are certainly useful in non-fiction, but i hate seeing them in stories and novels, where i find them more intrusive, than helpful...
     
  4. HorusEye
    Offline

    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 25, 2009
    Messages:
    1,215
    Likes Received:
    48
    Location:
    Denmark
    So

    "I like complex sentences - I find them more conducive to the idea that i'm trying to convey."

    would be better?
     
  5. witch wyzwurd
    Offline

    witch wyzwurd Contributing Member

    Joined:
    May 6, 2008
    Messages:
    349
    Likes Received:
    6
    Location:
    Racine, Wisconsin
    That would not be correct use of the dash. A dash is used to convey information about a subject or action of a sentence which is not important to the story but important enough that the author wanted to share it. Here are two examples:

    Right now I am eating cereal-man, I like this cereal-and watching a movie.
    I went running-well, more of a jog-the other day.

    This rule is applied to lists:

    I bought a green egg, which ended up to be spoiled, potatoes, from Idaho, carrots, that turned out to be soggy, green beans, and mushrooms.

    should be

    I bought a green egg, which ended up to be spoiled; potatoes, from Idaho; carrots, that turned out to be soggy; green beans; and mushrooms.


    Semi-colons should only be used when necessary. The use of it in your sentence:...

    I like complex sentences; I find them more conducive to the idea that i'm trying to convey (where a period might cap off the thought, before i've finished it).

    ...is wrong. But so is your use of parentheses.
     
  6. SlickBeast
    Offline

    SlickBeast New Member

    Joined:
    Aug 12, 2009
    Messages:
    10
    Likes Received:
    0

    The semicolon is overrated if you ask me, and is something you can very well do without in fiction.

    There's nothing wrong with prolix sentences, but usually when you want fast-paced action scenes, shorter sentences are recommended.
     
  7. HorusEye
    Offline

    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 25, 2009
    Messages:
    1,215
    Likes Received:
    48
    Location:
    Denmark
    Well, ok.

    What then, would be the correct thing to insert here?

    "I like complex sentences [x] I find them more conducive to the idea that i'm trying to convey."

    Just a period and nothing else?

    Also, regarding your use of the dash.

    Right now I am eating cereal-man, I like this cereal-and watching a movie.

    wouldn't this be clearer, or atleast the same, with parantheses?

    Right now I am eating cereal (man, I like this cereal) and watching a movie.

    I found this about the dash, which — as I understand it — would justify the use of it in the original sentence above.

    "The dash is a handy device, informal and esentially playful, telling you that you're about to take off on a different tack but still in some way connected with the present course — only you have to remember that the dash is there, and either put a second dash at the end of the notion to let the reader know that he's back on course, or else end the sentence, as here, with a period." - Lewis Thomas
     
  8. CharlieVer
    Offline

    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 2, 2009
    Messages:
    0
    Likes Received:
    27
    Location:
    Raritan, NJ
    I like complex sentences--I find them more conducive to the idea that I'm trying to convey ((where a period might cap off the thought...before I've finished it) I hear tell that a semicolon can be used--(in place of comma (in a complex sentence))) to void confusion for the reader; I was wondering if there was a rule (or guideline) to follow to identifying which comma is to be replaced.

    Okay, I admit it, I'm kidding with the above punctuation.
     
  9. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    If your sentence is so complex that it requires that many punctuation "folding points", you should really consider breaking it up. Seriously. Just because you can construct the sentence to make it logically and syntactically hang together doesn't make it a good idea.
     
  10. marina
    Offline

    marina Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2008
    Messages:
    1,280
    Likes Received:
    55
    Location:
    Seattle
    I just realized this sounds sketchy. Homework? :confused:
     
  11. Sound of Silence
    Offline

    Sound of Silence Member

    Joined:
    Sep 19, 2008
    Messages:
    99
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Close to madness
    If you're unsure about what's used in fiction and what isn't, get into the habit of checking through the published work on your shelves.

    I've seen adverbs used; I've seen passive used; I've seen the semi-colon used. Just make sure you know how semi's work and why they're there. Find out why they replace the coordinating conjunction when you have two closely related independant clauses, find out why they're used before conjunctive adverbs to then link independent clauses, and find out what role they play in lists dotted with punctuation... That knowledge will tell you if you need it in your work too.
     
  12. architectus
    Offline

    architectus Banned

    Joined:
    Aug 19, 2008
    Messages:
    1,796
    Likes Received:
    14
    Location:
    Ca
    I like complex sentences because I find them more conductive to the idea that I'm trying to convey, whereas a period might cap off the thought before I've finished it. I hear that a semicolon can be used in place of a comma, in a complex sentence, to avoid confusing the reader.
     
  13. CharlieVer
    Offline

    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 2, 2009
    Messages:
    0
    Likes Received:
    27
    Location:
    Raritan, NJ
    Colons do have a purpose.

    The places they may be used include: fiction, nonfiction, letters, articles, and at the introduction of a list embedded in a sentence.
     
  14. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Colons are mostly for the separation of nutrients from inigestible waste products.

    They have some place in fiction, but their appearance there should be very rare.
     
    1 person likes this.
  15. witch wyzwurd
    Offline

    witch wyzwurd Contributing Member

    Joined:
    May 6, 2008
    Messages:
    349
    Likes Received:
    6
    Location:
    Racine, Wisconsin
    Horus, I don't find it respectful to the original post to continue our conversation here. So I'll pm you.


    Better yet:

    I like complex sentences. I find them more conducive to the idea that I'm trying to convey when a period might cap off the thought before I've finished it. I hear that a semicolon can be used in place of a comma to avoid confusing the reader.
     
  16. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    a poor example for a couple of reasons... first of all due to the improper use of a hyphen, instead of an actual em dash, or the double hyphen that's used to indicate one... and second, because you shouldn't have more than one em dash-separated phrase in the same sentence...
     
  17. CharlieVer
    Offline

    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 2, 2009
    Messages:
    0
    Likes Received:
    27
    Location:
    Raritan, NJ
    On the colon: I actually have a line in my book that someone told me requires a colon, which I virtually never use, but let me run this past you, because it doesn't seem correct, being a list of one.

    (The scene leading up to this has Thomas Jefferson and his slave, Madison Hemings, walking towards Monticello, where several crates were sitting on the steps.)

    "My latest acquisitions," Jefferson said.
    Madison knew what Jefferson meant: books.


    I could, of course, go with the sentence fragment.

    Madison knew what Jefferson meant. Books.

    Is there a better way?
    Is a colon appropriate with a list of only one?

    Charlie
     
  18. thirdwind
    Offline

    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2008
    Messages:
    7,351
    Likes Received:
    2,891
    Location:
    Boston
    ^ I actually like it when a colon is used in that case, even though there is only one item in that list.
     
  19. jwatson
    Offline

    jwatson Active Member

    Joined:
    Jul 16, 2009
    Messages:
    559
    Likes Received:
    11
    Location:
    canada
    I think that it is. It had been in some books that I've read
     
  20. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    I would prefer the sentence fragment in fiction. In nonfiction, particularly essays, strict adherence to the formal rules of punctuation is preferable. But sentence fragments are not only acceptable in fiction, they are encouraged, as long as they are not used too excessively.

    Where would I use colons in fiction? In a title that contains a colon:
    I would also use it in a block quote of an Internet chat:
     
  21. Sound of Silence
    Offline

    Sound of Silence Member

    Joined:
    Sep 19, 2008
    Messages:
    99
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Close to madness

    Hey, Charlie.

    The colon as your using it isn't indicating a list sentence (i.e. Jane likes three things: money, men and men with money) It's showing a logical answer to the stament before:

    Madison knew what Jefferson meant (statement): books (logical answer).

    So yes, certainly according to British English, that's perfectly logical usage. You just need to check with whatever English hybrid you use, hun.
     
  22. witch wyzwurd
    Offline

    witch wyzwurd Contributing Member

    Joined:
    May 6, 2008
    Messages:
    349
    Likes Received:
    6
    Location:
    Racine, Wisconsin
    I don't know how to make an em dash with the keyboard. So I did the best I could. Second, double dash is not proper; although, many people use it.

    I don't. Go back and read my sentences.

    You should respect the original poster, I believe, by pming me critiques on my responses in a thread.
     
  23. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    the best way is how you did it with the period and fragment... though you could also have used an em dash there...

    a list isn't a list, if there's only one item...

    i have to ditto cog's post on where colons should be used in fiction...

    if you have ms word, you can find the em dash in the 'symbol' display found in the 'tools' menu... there's even a keyboard shortcut, though i don't know what it is... but the simplest way is to use a double hyphen... and it certainly IS 'proper'... in fact, it's the standard way to indicate a hyphen in a ms and what agents and publishers will expect...

    i just did... and you do... there are 4 hyphens/em dashes in that sentence, which can only mean you have 2 'em dash-separated phrase(s) in the same sentence'...

    no disrespect was intended or implied... and when an incorrect example is presented in a thread, as a de facto lesson to those who may not know better, there's nothing wrong with adding a polite correction... doing so privately wouldn't let other posters know it's not a good example to follow, or learn from...

    this is done all the time on writing sites... it falls under the category of 'friendly discussion'... and if it were all done in pm's, i venture to say there'd be way fewer than half the posts here on the site, than there are now...
     

Share This Page