1. writerdude11
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    writerdude11 Member

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    the use of semicolons and colons...

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by writerdude11, May 13, 2013.

    Hey guys, I'm reading a book on grammar and it says that colons/semicolons can be used in the place of a comma to put extra emphasis on separating ideas. I have a problem with that cause in college I was taught that you should only use a semicolon/colon when you want to inidcate that there is alot of information following in part of a sentence. Here is an example:

    "In mathematics there are several basic things you need to learn such as: addition, subtraction, multiplication and division"

    This is an example given by the book that I disagree with....

    "Profiles are text commands that contain certain commands. You can edit them, but always keep a backup: If you change them incorrectly, the behavior of the editor may be affected."

    Wouldn't you just use a period after "backup"?. The book says there is a connection between the last two ideas and I think I see it, so are colons/semicolons more or less important than commas and should I watch out for them in my writing? or is it just a matter of style?. Sorry for the long post, any feedback is greatly appreciated!
     
  2. Nee
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    Nee Contributing Member

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    Elements of Style, by William Strunk Jr.

    http://www.bartleby.com/141/
     
  3. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    This is incorrect. The clause before the colon has to be an independent clause, which isn't the case here. You could take out the "such as" and it would be fine.

    You could use a period, but a colon works as well. From Wikipedia, "The most common use of the colon is to inform the reader that what follows the colon proves, explains, or lists elements of what preceded it."

    I would say they are equally important. It's just a matter of knowing when/how to use them. Some people don't like using/reading semicolons in fiction, but I'm not one of those people. As long as you're using it correctly, I say go for it.

    It can be. Some writers really like semicolons. Others don't. It's a personal preference.
     
  4. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I wouldn't write either example as presented.

    To me, a colon replaces other elements of the sentence structure--if you don't _need_ the colon as the sentence is structured, it shouldn't be there. I'm not saying that it's incorrect, but I don't like it as a style decision. (Edited to add: Ah, apparently it is incorrect.) So I'd either eliminate "such as" and keep the colon:

    In mathematics there are several basic things you need to learn: addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

    Or I'd keep "such as" and eliminate the colon:

    In mathematics there are several basic things you need to learn, such as addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

    The second example could take a semicolon, because it consists of two complete sentences:

    You can edit them, but always keep a backup; if you change them incorrectly, the behavior of the editor may be affected.

    Or, yes, it could simply be two sentences:

    You can edit them, but always keep a backup. If you change them incorrectly, the behavior of the editor may be affected.

    Again, I don't like the colon in the second example, though again I don't think that it's technically incorrect.

    As one more point, semicolons are apparently disliked in American fiction. (I'm not sure about American nonfiction.)
     
  5. writerdude11
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    writerdude11 Member

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    to Thirdwind...

    I'm having trouble understanding why my origional sentence isn't an independant clause, it stands alone doesn't it?.

    "In mathematics there are several basic things you need to learn such as:"
     
  6. foiler
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    foiler Member

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    If that's what you're book describes, it's flat out wrong. Commas, colons and semicolons have different purposes and applications.

    Semicolons can be used to join two independent clauses without a coordinating conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet).

    For example:

    Jane, try this on; It's definitely your color.

    The above structure is a great way to take two short, closely related sentences and put them together for more emphasis. The key is that both parts are independent clauses; they both contain subject and verb. They can both stand on their own as separate sentences. You can't do this with a dependent clause.

    This is incorrect: When Bill walked outside; he decided it was too hot for his coat.

    With a dependent clause, you have to use a comma.

    This is correct: When Bill walked outside, he decided it was too hot for his coat.

    Also, you can not use a semicolon in place of a comma because you can't use a semicolon with coordinating conjunction.

    This is correct: Bill went to the house, but didn't go inside.

    This is not correct: Bill went to the house; but didn't go inside.

    You can use a semicolon with a conjunctive adverb (hence, therefore, thus, however, etc.)

    This is correct: Bill knew he was in trouble; however, he wasn't going to just stand there and let it happen.

    Looking for an easy way to know the difference between conjunctive adverbs and coordinating conjunctions?

    Conjunctive adverbs provide more information about the transition, and they have four letters or more. Coordinating conjunctions have three letters or less.

    You should also use a semicolon when you are writing a series within a sentence, and the series contains commas.

    For example: Bill went through his pockets and found a nail clipper, broken and rusted; an old, green chewing gum wrapper; six keys, and a yo-yo.

    As for colons, they are more specific than semicolons.

    Use a colon to provide definition, or give an example of the first statement:

    Remember what Mom always says: Don't go out without your hat.

    I hope that all helps :)
     
  7. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I assume that the issue is that the "such as" needs to refer to something.

    "What are we eating?"

    "Oh, all sorts of things, such as."

    "Yes? Go on."

    "Go on with what?"

    "Are you going to finish the sentence? Such as what?"
     
  8. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    The independent clause is "In mathematics there are several basic things you need to learn." So your original sentence isn't an independent clause because of the "such as." See ChickenFreak's post.

    Also, just in case you don't know, an independent clause contains a subject and a predicate and stands by itself. Your original sentence doesn't stand by itself because of the "such as."
     
  9. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    By "using semicolons for extra emphasis" perhaps it means something more like "making sure each element of a list is clearly separate", especially where there are "ands" in each element e.g.
    I like several traditional dishes: steak and kidney pie; sausage and mash; and fish and chips.
    And I've used the colon after "dishes" because I'm giving a list, and the "I like several traditional dishes" can stand alone as a sentence.
     
  10. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Also if the list elements contain commas:
    The postmarks on the threatening letters indicated three likely locations for the suspects: Kent, Ohio; Blue Ridge, Kentucky; and Cottage Grove, Oregon.
     
  11. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    yup!
     

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