1. shanemitchell1
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    shanemitchell1 Member

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    whats the difference?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by shanemitchell1, Mar 21, 2009.

    Can someone explain to me the difference between a comma and a semicolon? I will give an example sentence, tell me if it is correct.

    A lone figure crouched at the edge of cliff, his red eyes glowing in the black of night.

    Should a semicolon be replaced between "cliff and his"? This is just an example and please explain what the differences are.
     
  2. LeoMars
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    LeoMars Member

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    It should be a comma. A semicolon is used to separate two complete sentences that are related to each other. A comma is used to separate a complete sentence from a sentence fragment ("his red eyes glowing in the black of night", in your case).

    Hereby below is the correct use of the semicolon:

    A lone figure stared down from the edge of cliff; his red eyes were glowing in the black of night.
     
  3. Neha
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    Neha Beyond Infinity. Contributor

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    Yeah, a comma's like a stone, you just step over it. A semi colon's like a small block of stones, you jump over it, and a full stop is a wall of stones, you go around it. So essentially, you break flow at a comma, take a breath at a semicolon and stop at the fullstop. e.g:

    He was a naughty boy, so he got punished for it.
    He was naughty; he got punished for it
     
  4. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Treat a semicolon like you would a period, but use it between two very related sentences, and I would recommend to only use it between two short related sentences.

    Also, there needs to be an a or the before cliff.
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Difference?

    The comma is the most misused punctuation symbol. It is often omitted where it is required and inserted where it does not belong.

    The semicolon is the most overused punctuation symbol, rivalled only by the exclamation mark.
     
  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ditto that, cog!
     
  7. marina
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    marina Contributing Member Contributor

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    Regarding semicolons, I've been told I overuse them. How do you know when to use it and when to just have 2 separate sentences instead? Is it just a judgement call?
     
  8. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Cog, that is so true about the exclamation mark. In my YA novel Bending Nature (70,000 words) I used it 37 times. I used 12 semicolons.

    In Agija of Agukas (80k) I only used 5 exclamation marks. I used 19 semicolons.

    Once I go through the last revision of Bending Nature, the 37 exclamation marks will be reduced.

    Marina: Here is how I personally use them. When I have clauses with comas in them, but they are part of a list. When I use a large ugly conjunction like although, or however to connect two sentences, which I rarely use. And to connect two very related short sentences, and then only if I think it helps the paragraph.

    He even sensed something in her; something he liked.
     
  9. LeoMars
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    LeoMars Member

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    You can actually do away with the semicolon and replace it with the period or a comma and a conjunction. Sometimes using a semicolon is about judgement call but you basically use a semicolon when the second sentence complete the meaning of the first's (note a colon can do that as well). Separating two complete sentences by a period, semicolon or colon will cause subtle differences in meaning.

    I'm very anti-semicolon by the way. :D
     
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  10. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i'm also totally anti-; for fiction... anywhere in fiction that you might use one of the pesky things, a comma, period, em dash, or 'and' will work much better and won't leave the reader wondering what to make of it, or annoyed at it being there in the first place...
     
  11. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Why would a reader be annoyed at a well placed semicolon?

    The amount of readers that might be annoyed by seeing a semicolon, I don't think is anything to worry about. There might be just as many readers that might be annoyed by never seeing one, hehe.
     
  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I must disagree, I have often been annoyed with pieces of writing laden with gratuitous semicolons. But I have never heard heard anyone spontaneously complain, "This writing needs more semicolons."
     
  13. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Cog, yes but there is a difference between many and a few.

    I don't think many readers would be annoyed with a few well placed semicolons. I also don't think those few readers that might be, are wroth never using a semicolon in a novel.

    From what I can tell, Maia is saying to never use semicolons because why take the chance in aggravating readers. I say, who cares if the very few readers out there would be annoyed by a few well placed semicolons. I'm sure those types would be aggravated by something else if not for the few semicolons.

    I doubt anyone of them stop reading an author because that author used semicolons in his/her novel. I wonder if a well received novel even exist that uses none.
     
  14. Cheeno
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    Cheeno Contributing Member

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    That one does, in my opinion.
     
  15. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    yes, one is definitely called for before 'his'... and not because it's a 'pause' but because what follows is an independent [dependent?] clause... and clauses need to be set off by commas...
     
  16. LeoMars
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    LeoMars Member

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    Can only be comma before "his red eyes glowing in the black of night", as it is additional information you can very well do without.
     
  17. Cheeno
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    Cheeno Contributing Member

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    As do I, that you do.:)
     
  18. Piestein
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    Piestein Senior Member

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    I personally give a lot of emphasis on spelling and punctuation, especially as a reader. It might be caused by the country where I live (You would be amazed how many people make dramatic mistakes with spelling and punctuation here), so feel free to treat this opinion as 'biased'.

    And yes, a comma is definitely needed there, at least imo (again I could be wrong, especially knowing I'm not even a native english speaker).
     
  19. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    the lack of, or un-called for use of a comma can completely change the meaning of a sentence, so it's not as insignificant a subject as you want it to be, tot... agents and editors will notice if a writer can't get 'em straight and it can affect your work being accepted, or rejected...
     
  20. lynneandlynn
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    lynneandlynn Contributing Member

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    The easiest way to determine if you should use a comma or semi-colon is to separate the two phrases you have into sentences. If they work without one another, use a semi-colon. If they don't, use a comma.

    Someone did make a good point, though- semicolons are overused. It's just as easy to use a conjunction and a comma in place of a semicolon and sometimes the flow is better. I try to only use semicolons when I'm purposely trying to jar the writing, to 'chunk it up' in order to get something across that makes more sense with forced pauses than it does with a flowing sentence.

    Most of the time, semi-colons are best used in poetry for that purpose rather than fiction, because fiction should read smoothly whereas in some poems you want to jar the reader from one line to another (not often, but you get my drift).


    ~Lynn
     
  21. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    sez who?... as a full time serious poet and mentor of many aspiring poets, i did a major double take over that statement, which i have never seen made by any authority on what is the most refined of the writing arts... in poetry, as in fiction, i find their use to be completely out of place and the alternatives i listed above to be much more appropriate and effective...

    the only place i see a semicolon [it's not hyphenated] needed or working well is in non-fiction, especially that which is technical or scholastic-aimed... so, i'd be interested in knowing who claims it should be used in poetry...
     
  22. lynneandlynn
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    lynneandlynn Contributing Member

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    Maybe I should clarify--semi-colons are best used in poetry as compared to their use in fiction. They're still entirely overused in both types of writing. I just think poetry lends itself better to the use of semi-colons than fiction does. That might just be a personal opinion. And, no offense, to me it is misleading to say that anyone is an "authority" on writing because writing is a form of art. If you aren't able to express yourself the way you want to because you're constrained by a set of guidelines that are so strict as to never be able to break out of them--well, that isn't art in my mind. Someone can be a professional writer and make money writing, but I don't think there's a single person in this world who will ever be qualified enough to claim themselves as an "authority" on an art-form. That's just my personal opinion. I think too many writers get caught up in the technicalities of writing that they forget that at it's very basic level, writing is an expression of self. And no one but you is an authority on your own person. Just my thoughts.
     
  23. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    I don't understand the aversion to semicolons. They can produce a feeling that a period, comma, and em-dash cannot.

    Check out The Aim Was Song by Robert Frost. He uses one semicolon, one colon, and four em-dashes in that poem.
     
  24. lynneandlynn
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    lynneandlynn Contributing Member

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    I agree. I think a semi-colon creates a longer pause than an em-dash in a reader's mind (or at least it does in mine!).
     
  25. SufferMeElmo
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    SufferMeElmo New Member

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    With hallucinations for punctuation
    And chaos for capitalization
    Me never meets a comma
    Me couldn't do withouttah
     

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