1. U.G. Ridley
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    U.G. Ridley I'm a wizard, Hagrid Supporter

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    When to use (,) (-) (:) (;)?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by U.G. Ridley, Jun 22, 2016.

    Despite knowing the basics of comma and such, I still find myself slightly comfused on the rules for the rest of them (in a creative-writing setting). I sometimes think I understand the rule of when you use the hyphen (-) but then I see another writer using a comma in that same situation. Again, I understand losely when all these symbols are supposed to be used, but then I keep seeing execptions to the rule.
     
  2. Elven Candy
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    Elven Candy Contributing Member

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    The comma, hyphen, and semicolon (and to some extent period) can all pretty much be used interchangeably in fiction writing. Which one you actually decide to use is largely based on your style. Some people don't like semicolons in novels, so they always replace it with something else. Other people don't mind a few semicolons. The hyphen's the easiest for me to grasp--it's basically used to show a tacked on piece of information, add emphasis to something, or to show interrupted dialogue or thought (in this sentence, it's used to tack on some information. Note that it can be substituted for a semicolon or period, though each has a slightly different impact upon reading) .


    Betty whined. "But Mom, I don't want to do the dish--" (dialogue interruption)
    "You'll do the dishes, or you'll skip dinner."
    She won't do them! She won't! She'll just go upstairs and-- (thought interruption)
    Peter roared and played that his T-Rex ate a stegosaurus.
    Hmph! It wasn't fair she had to do the dishes while Peter got to play. Mom was never fair--never! (adding emphasis)

    Edited to add: As far as I know, the colon is used the say way it'd be used in school papers, though most people prefer not to put them in novels.
     
  3. Wayjor Frippery
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    Wayjor Frippery Contributing Member

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    This isn't a simple question, and a decent answer is well beyond the scope of a forum post. There are a whole bunch of threads here in this section that deal with each of these marks – have a dig around.

    Commas are used to separate bits of a sentence or items in a list. They are the most misused of all the marks because they're so flexible. For example (correct use in standard English):

    Swinging the carrier bag all the way, he ran to the shop to buy bread, eggs and milk, and then he called up his friends, daringly.


    This link is a reasonable place to start if you want to get a handle on them:
    http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/where-do-i-use-commas

    Colons function like the words that is (and a whole bunch of similar words – your question really is way too big for one post). For example:

    I had a great lunch today: ham, egg and chips.

    http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/colons

    Semicolons join sentences that are semantically related in some way and for which a full stop would represent too big a break (when to use them is quite subjective). For example:

    The train leaves at two o'clock every Friday afternoon; it's a beautiful old steam locomotive.

    http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/semicolons

    The last one, the hyphen (-), is used to make compound words (e.g. ready-made). There are also en dashes (–) and em dashes (—), which are used differently in British and American English, but mainly function like parentheses, marking a stronger break than a comma. When to use them is often a stylistic choice.

    The woman, the same one as yesterday, came to the door.
    The woman (the same one as yesterday) came to the door.
    The woman – the same one as yesterday – came to the door.
    [en dash: British English (mostly)]
    The woman—the same one as yesterday—came to the door. [em dash: American English (mostly)]

    These examples are not exhaustive – you'll need to do some homework of your own.

    Happy trails!

    :)
     
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2016
  4. Elven Candy
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    Elven Candy Contributing Member

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    I can't believe I didn't realize the OP asked about the hyphen, not the m-dash--I even used the term hyphen!

    I can be so ditzy . . .:dry:
     
  5. newjerseyrunner
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    newjerseyrunner Contributing Member

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    Interesting, I use an ellipsis in this situation.
     
    BC Barry likes this.
  6. Elven Candy
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    Elven Candy Contributing Member

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    The problem with using an ellipsis in that situation is that an ellipsis shows trailing off. The m-dash (which is what that "hyphen" is. I had gotten the terms mixed up) shows interruption. When I read a book that uses an ellipsis where an m-dash should be, it confuses me. Granted, I'm only confused for a short time, but I do get confused and have to figure out if the person was interrupted or if they trailed off and just stopped talking.
     
  7. ManOrAstroMan
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    ManOrAstroMan Magical Space Detective Contributor

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    To me, an ellipsis implies a gradual slowing, rather than an immediate stop. It's more thoughtful.
     

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