1. Milady
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    Milady Contributing Member

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    Two semicolons in a sentence?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Milady, Jul 6, 2008.

    So, I know (and routinely abuse) the properties of a semicolon. It is used in place of a comma to prevent comma splices; its main function is to afix related sentences together without using a conjunction. (Okay, that was a little forced.)

    But I just had a thought.

    Can more than one semicolon be used in the same sentence? You know what I mean:

    Blah blah blah; blah blah blah; blah blah blah.

    I think I've seen it done somewhere, but I don't remember if it was a "good" example or a "bad" example.

    Thoughts?
     
  2. Lucy E.
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    Lucy E. Contributing Member

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    I'm pretty sure it can, but everyone else is free to correct me if I'm wrong. I think it can be used in structures such as this one:

    Its branches reached skyward; its trunk was slender but strong; bark peeled off in curved strips.

    I don't know if that's right, so as I said, correct me if I'm wrong.
     
  3. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    doesn't look right to me... more than one semicolon can be used for a series of items, but doesn't seem ok to me, for a series of descriptive phrases... that just makes no sense, imo, as you've merely glued three separate sentences together with semicolons...

    i'll leave it to others to find the relevant rule, if there is one...
     
  4. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    Where is the benefit in that grammatical structure? How do multiple semicolons improve the reading?

    Perhaps I am a literary simpleton, but I don't see the necessity. I would personally avoid using this punctuation choice, as it might be confusing or annoying to the reader.

    Just my two cents...I did not bother to look up the "rules", because I doubt I would opt for this approach as opposed to commas, periods or conjunctions.

    .....NaCl
     
  5. witch wyzwurd
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    witch wyzwurd Contributing Member

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    If you read old texts multiple semicolons will be used in the same sentence. It's not common practice anymore. Current standards usually suggest splitting the phrase separated by a semicolon into separate sentences. I like multiple semicolons in a sentence though, as long as they are used correctly. I think the popularity faded out (around the time of Edgar allen Poe) because most people don't understand how to use them correctly and a reader generally won't understand how to make sense of the sentence.
     
  6. Lucy E.
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    Lucy E. Contributing Member

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    You're right, the one I typed out doesn't look right, but I'm pretty sure I've seen sentences structured similarly elsewhere.
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Using semicolons to separate list items that themselves contain commas would be one example. However, a sentene that complex is probably better rewritten anyway.

    So technicalky you could have multiple semicolons in a sentence. But given that the conventional wisdom is to avoid semicolons most of the time, I'd say it's probably a red flag that the sentence should probably be rethought.
     
  8. Milady
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    Milady Contributing Member

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    :eek: I'd forgotten about the use of the semicolon in lists!

    But yeah, I guess I saw it in an old text. I've been reading things like Jane Eyre and such... Anyway, I wouldn't dream of using it in fiction. A terrible throw-off, that. I was just... curious.

    Thanks, guys.
     
  9. Kirby Tails
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    Kirby Tails Member

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    I've done it before, but I try to avoid it, just because it doesn't seem right. But watch, I bet I'll wrte something tonight with two semicolons. I'll post it if it's any good.
     
  10. penhobby
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    penhobby Contributing Member

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    An editor once told me that semicolon's have no business in a story like setting, but could be and often are used in news paper and magazine articles. My personal preference? I never use them. I think it's better to simply end it with a period and be done with it. As I said though, that's my personal opinion. So please, no one take me out and shoot me over it.
     
  11. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I had an instructor in college recently who warned people to leave semicolons out of all papers in his course, because they are nearly always used incorrectly, and that he would be ruthless about taking points off unless the use of the semicolon was both correct and the best choice.

    A bit extreme, but it underscores the frustration of editors and others who have to read material overflowing with the little buggers.
     
  12. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    The only truly "correct" answer is: whatever the editor wants! LOL
     
  13. CDRW
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    CDRW Contributing Member Contributor

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    Little buggers huh? I can just see the pages of an open book crawling with aphids right now.
     
  14. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Look closely. See the head? See the curved thorax? They're a plague, I tell you, a crawling infestation!
     
  15. penhobby
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    penhobby Contributing Member

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    Oh yeah, you nailed those suckers all right!
     
  16. CDRW
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    CDRW Contributing Member Contributor

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    I can just see some poor editor losing his office plants to an infestation that was imported in by a bad manuscript, kind of like how we have rats in america because they hitched a ride on cargo ships. Things could also be really bad if an outbreak happened in one of the major publishing houses. They would spread to the other manuscripts. They might lose a whole year worth of crops.
     
  17. Milady
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    Milady Contributing Member

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    I know leaving out the semicolon is the best way to go usually, and yet I keep finding myself using them... :eek: I think I'm addicted, and yet I can't find a better way of phrasing certain sentences...
     
  18. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    phrasing has nada to do with it... you can use the same phrasing and just insert a comma, em dash, or period wherever you have all those dadratted ;s!

    if that doesn't work, then your phrasing needs help...
     
  19. Milady
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    Milady Contributing Member

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    If I insert a comma, then most of these particular sentences would be comma splices. Which is the point of using the semicolon.

    I suppose, if I wanted to sacrifice the artistic value, I could break it into two or more sentences, but.... </failing to be sarcastic>, lol.

    Yes, I know if I play with it long enough I can write most of my problem sentences without semicolons... but that's for me to work out in revision. Till then, I'll do what I can.
     
  20. Mythurien
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    Mythurien New Member

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    Though it's true that many people don't know how to properly use a semicolon, there is nothing wrong with using them. The semicolon, like the comma, is merely a punctuation mark that is meant to properly direct the flow and rhythm of a sentence, and can theoretically be used as many times in a sentence as you want. Anyone who says you shouldn't use a semicolon as a rule of thumb either doesn't know how to use it themselves or is an unimaginative writer simply regurgitating what their high school English teacher improperly told them, and should not be listened to.
     
  21. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    m... i think most, if not all who say to not use them mean, as i do, just not for fiction... i don't believe any of us have said they shouldn't be used for non-fiction, where they do serve a useful purpose...
     
  22. BillyxRansom
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    BillyxRansom Active Member

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    That is interesting; I will have to make a point of correcting all the multiple mistakes I've made containing the semi-colon. (Did you catch the irony? Did ya?? :p Har.)
     
  23. Etan Isar
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    Etan Isar Contributing Member Contributor

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    I use colons, semi-colons, even the dreaded ellipses in my fiction. I don't see the problem as long as I use them properly. I think that about half the time, I do; however, I am not averse to editing them out if there is a "simpler" or "better" way to construct the sentence. People don't like them because they are used improperly so much—ironically, the comma and the apostrophe are often bigger offenders... if only because they are harder to do without. Here's a simple solution: learn to use your punctuation properly, and there will not be an issue.
     

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