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Forbidden Snowflake
07-15-2014, 05:45 PM
English isn't my first language and I struggle with punctuation.

A semicolon joins together two sentences that could stand independently. Right?

My uncle has a big car and I would love to drive it.
My uncle has a big car. I would love to drive it.

Would the following be correct?

My uncle has a big car; I'd love to drive it ?

So, how do I decide which one is the best option? Is there a rule?

For example with the following sentence:

An eerie silence started spreading across the room; everyone had stopped breathing.

How do I join the sentences properly?

Don't even get me started on the other punctuation rules... I have a book here called 'The Elements Of Style' and it's driving me insane...

Maryn
07-15-2014, 06:43 PM
You are correct. The time to use a semicolon is when the concept of the two sentences is so related to each that they should be closer than separate sentences. Your example seems to be just that.

Be aware, though, that many editors ruthlessly delete semicolons in favor of two sentences. I can't agree with that in many cases, but it may serve you well to ask yourself if you truly need these two independent clauses to be connected.

Maryn, admiring of those who master a second language

NRoach
07-15-2014, 07:14 PM
The semicolon should really be called the semi-period (note, this is the only time I'll use the american name for the full stop; it just works better here), because that's pretty much what it is.

Chase
07-15-2014, 07:34 PM
Maryn nailed it.

A semicolon joins together two sentences that could stand independently. Right? Right, you are.

My uncle has a big car[,] and I would love to drive it. Because and connects two main clauses, it's a coordinating conjunction and the construct needs a comma after car.
My uncle has a big car. I would love to drive it.

Would the following be correct? Yes.

My uncle has a big car; I'd love to drive it ?

So, how do I decide which one is the best option? Is there a rule? No. The writer--or publisher, as Maryn said--determines the style. Even though you didn't want another punctuation guideline, so is another coordinating conjunction (and, or, nor, but, for, yet, so) and shouldn't be followed by a comma, as if it were an adverb (however, then, also, consequently, etcetera). If you want to force a pause there, a comma isn't the right tool. Consider ellipses ( . . . ) or a dash (--) for hesitations.

For example with the following sentence:

An eerie silence started spreading across the room; everyone had stopped breathing.

How do I join the sentences clauses properly? You did.

fivetoesten
07-15-2014, 07:40 PM
The only thing I know about semicolons is that

This is a dull sentence.

and

This; is an exciting sentence.

Placement? Usage? Who cares? Semicolons are like pixie dust. I love semicolons!

Forbidden Snowflake
07-15-2014, 07:47 PM
Maryn nailed it.

A semicolon joins together two sentences that could stand independently. Right? Right, you are.

My uncle has a big car[,] and I would love to drive it. Because and connects two main clauses, it's a coordinating conjunction and the construct needs a comma after car.
My uncle has a big car. I would love to drive it.

Would the following be correct? Yes.

My uncle has a big car; I'd love to drive it ?

So, how do I decide which one is the best option? Is there a rule? No. The writer--or publisher, as Maryn said--determines the style. Even though you didn't want another punctuation guideline, so is another coordinating conjunction (and, or, nor, but, for, yet, so) and shouldn't be followed by a comma, as if it were an adverb (however, then, also, consequently, etcetera). If you want to force a pause there, a comma isn't the right tool. Consider ellipses ( . . . ) or a dash (--) for hesitations.

For example with the following sentence:

An eerie silence started spreading across the room; everyone had stopped breathing.

How do I join the sentences clauses properly? You did.

Thank you :)

I'm always forgetting the comma before a coordinating conjunction because it's a strict rule in German to never place one there. Thank you for reminding me :)

Now onwards... learning all about punctuation these day.

NRoach
07-15-2014, 08:12 PM
Thank you :)

I'm always forgetting the comma before a coordinating conjunction because it's a strict rule in German to never place one there. Thank you for reminding me :)

Now onwards... learning all about punctuation these day.

If it's any consolation, comma placement in German always trips me up.

Forbidden Snowflake
07-15-2014, 09:06 PM
If it's any consolation, comma placement in German always trips me up.

Those two languages are SO different when it comes to punctuation. How quotation marks are handled as well. I'm not sure how to learn the proper rules in English without messing up my German :D At the moment I'm just getting confused while editing. And then I want to hit my head against the wall, repeatedly.

King Neptune
07-15-2014, 11:40 PM
I love semicolons. They join independent clauses that could be separate sentences or parts of a compound sentence.

BethS
07-16-2014, 10:31 AM
English isn't my first language and I struggle with punctuation.

A semicolon joins together two sentences that could stand independently. Right?



Yes. How you know when to join two independent sentences is trickier, but I think of it this way: Use a semi-colon when the second sentence completes the thought that the first sentence began. The two sentences, in terms of subject matter or theme, should feel like two halves of one whole.

Forbidden Snowflake
07-16-2014, 10:57 AM
Yes. How you know when to join two independent sentences is trickier, but I think of it this way: Use a semi-colon when the second sentence completes the thought that the first sentence began. The two sentences, in terms of subject matter or theme, should feel like two halves of one whole.

That makes sense.

But sometimes a comma can do the same job and then I'm not sure which to pick.

I have the impression I rarely see many semicolons in books.

cornflake
07-16-2014, 12:24 PM
The only thing I know about semicolons is that

This is a dull sentence.

and

This; is an exciting sentence.

Placement? Usage? Who cares? Semicolons are like pixie dust. I love semicolons!

The second is something, but a correctly-punctuated sentence isn't it. ;)


That makes sense.

But sometimes a comma can do the same job and then I'm not sure which to pick.

I have the impression I rarely see many semicolons in books.

No, a comma cannot do the same job. If you put a comma where there should be a semicolon, you're creating a comma splice, which can rend space-time and cause holes in the universe.

Forbidden Snowflake
07-16-2014, 01:34 PM
No, a comma cannot do the same job. If you put a comma where there should be a semicolon, you're creating a comma splice, which can rend space-time and cause holes in the universe.

You're saying if I want to use a comma, I need to use a coordinating conjunction?

So in my example:

An eerie silence started spreading across the room; everyone had stopped breathing.

The semicolon is correct, the comma wouldn't be, unless I'd write:

Everyone had stopped breathing and an eerie silence started spreading across the room.

If what I'm saying here is correct, then I'm definitely starting to wrap my head around this...

cornflake
07-16-2014, 02:08 PM
You're saying if I want to use a comma, I need to use a coordinating conjunction?

So in my example:

An eerie silence started spreading across the room; everyone had stopped breathing.

The semicolon is correct, the comma wouldn't be, unless I'd write:

Everyone had stopped breathing and an eerie silence started spreading across the room.

If what I'm saying here is correct, then I'm definitely starting to wrap my head around this...

Think about it this way -

There are basically three ways to deal with two independent clauses. You can use a period, a semicolon, or a conjunction and a comma.

If you've got a dependent clause, like 'Bob went to the store and the library,' where 'the library,' is the dependent clause, you don't need a comma. If you have two independent clauses, 'Bob went to the store. Bob bought a lawnmower,' you can do any of those three things.

You can say -


Bob went to the store. He bought a lawnmower.

or

Bob went to the store; he bought a lawnmower.

or

Bob went to the store, and he bought a lawnmower.


You need the comma and conjunction for an independent clause.

King Neptune
07-16-2014, 04:30 PM
You're saying if I want to use a comma, I need to use a coordinating conjunction?

So in my example:

An eerie silence started spreading across the room; everyone had stopped breathing.

Yes, this is correct.


The semicolon is correct, the comma wouldn't be, unless I'd write:

Everyone had stopped breathing and an eerie silence started spreading across the room.

If what I'm saying here is correct, then I'm definitely starting to wrap my head around this...

But this one is not correct.

Everyone had stopped breathing, and an eerie silence started spreading across the room.
The comma is required. If one of the clauses ia a dependent, then the comma is not required and is generally incorrect.

Forbidden Snowflake
07-16-2014, 04:41 PM
Everyone had stopped breathing, and an eerie silence started spreading across the room.
The comma is required. If one of the clauses ia a dependent, then the comma is not required and is generally incorrect.

Funny.. I apologise. I even said "the comma wouldn't be correct, unless..." and then re-wrote the sentence to add the comma and then forgot the comma. (That comma is a deadly sin in German, I need to always, always remind myself to add it!)

Trying again:

An eerie silence started spreading across the room; everyone had stopped breathing. (correct)

Everyone had stopped breathing, and an eerie silence started spreading across the room. (correct)

An eerie silence started spreading across the room, everyone had stopped breathing. (and this would be a comma splice, so wrong?)

BethS
07-16-2014, 06:12 PM
That makes sense.

But sometimes a comma can do the same job and then I'm not sure which to pick.

A comma cannot connect two independent sentences. If it does, it's called a comma splice and that's always wrong (except when used in dialogue to indicate a run-on style of speaking).


I have the impression I rarely see many semicolons in books.

I see them all the time, but often misused.

BethS
07-16-2014, 06:14 PM
Funny.. I apologise. I even said "the comma wouldn't be correct, unless..." and then re-wrote the sentence to add the comma and then forgot the comma. (That comma is a deadly sin in German, I need to always, always remind myself to add it!)

Trying again:

An eerie silence started spreading across the room; everyone had stopped breathing. (correct)

Everyone had stopped breathing, and an eerie silence started spreading across the room. (correct)

An eerie silence started spreading across the room, everyone had stopped breathing. (and this would be a comma splice, so wrong?)

You got it!

King Neptune
07-16-2014, 07:46 PM
Trying again:

An eerie silence started spreading across the room; everyone had stopped breathing. (correct)

Everyone had stopped breathing, and an eerie silence started spreading across the room. (correct)

Yes, correct


An eerie silence started spreading across the room, everyone had stopped breathing. (and this would be a comma splice, so wrong?)

Yes, this is a comma splice.

fivetoesten
07-16-2014, 08:02 PM
An eerie silence started spreading across the room; everyone had stopped breathing.

Anything wrong with a period here?

An eerie silence started spreading across the room. Everyone had stopped breathing.

Chase
07-16-2014, 08:45 PM
Anything wrong with a period here?

An eerie silence started spreading across the room. Everyone had stopped breathing.

Nope. Neither is the semicolon wrong: An eerie silence started spreading across the room; everyone had stopped breathing.

An alternate compound structure isn't wrong: An eerie silence started spreading across the room, for everyone had stopped breathing.

A complex structure isn't wrong: An eerie silence started spreading across the room, after everyone had stopped breathing.

They're all punctuated correctly. It's the wonder of writer's choice. :snoopy:

Roxxsmom
07-16-2014, 11:47 PM
English isn't my first language and I struggle with punctuation.

A semicolon joins together two sentences that could stand independently. Right?

My uncle has a big car and I would love to drive it.
My uncle has a big car. I would love to drive it.

Would the following be correct?

My uncle has a big car; I'd love to drive it ?



Yes, this is correct.


So, how do I decide which one is the best option? Is there a rule?

For example with the following sentence:

An eerie silence started spreading across the room; everyone had stopped breathing.

How do I join the sentences properly?

Don't even get me started on the other punctuation rules... I have a book here called 'The Elements Of Style' and it's driving me insane...

This example is fine too. In this case, there's an implied "because" there.

Elements of style is a handbook intended for undergrad college/university students. It's got some handy tips, but it's not the end all of grammar and punctuation by any means. There's some stuff that's rather misleading too (the part about passive voice being any use of "to be" verbs, urgh). I don't know if you're trying to write fiction or non fiction, but EoS is also not really intended for fiction writers.

There really isn't a hard and fast rule about when to use a semicolon versus writing two shorter, but closely related sentences. Conventionally, if the first clause follows naturally from the second, a semicolon is appropriate. But some writers use them rarely, if ever, while others use them more often. I personally use them only very occasionally and pretty much never inside dialog.

But that's my style.

I think the general trend in recent years has been for writers to use them less frequently especially in fiction, and to either use compound sentences (two independent clauses connected by a comma and coordinating conjunction like "and") or to write two short, punchy sentences.

But I was reading a book a while ago where the author used semicolons fairly often. So it's definitely somewhat subjective. If you write smoothly and clearly, the readers likely won't notice your punctuation most of the time.

Forbidden Snowflake
07-17-2014, 11:14 AM
Elements of style is a handbook intended for undergrad college/university students. It's got some handy tips, but it's not the end all of grammar and punctuation by any means. There's some stuff that's rather misleading too (the part about passive voice being any use of "to be" verbs, urgh). I don't know if you're trying to write fiction or non fiction, but EoS is also not really intended for fiction writers.

There really isn't a hard and fast rule about when to use a semicolon versus writing two shorter, but closely related sentences. Conventionally, if the first clause follows naturally from the second, a semicolon is appropriate. But some writers use them rarely, if ever, while others use them more often. I personally use them only very occasionally and pretty much never inside dialog.

But that's my style.

I think the general trend in recent years has been for writers to use them less frequently especially in fiction, and to either use compound sentences (two independent clauses connected by a comma and coordinating conjunction like "and") or to write two short, punchy sentences.

But I was reading a book a while ago where the author used semicolons fairly often. So it's definitely somewhat subjective. If you write smoothly and clearly, the readers likely won't notice your punctuation most of the time.


Thank you, very helpful :)


Is there a good grammar/style book out there for fiction writers? Or just a grammar book for people who struggle with punctuation?

Or a good advanced grammar book?

I taught myself English by reading in English and by watching TV shows and films in English with English subtitles on. I sometimes struggle because I think it's done in a certain way but I'm not sure because don't know the rule.

BethS
07-17-2014, 11:25 AM
I have heard good things from sources I trust about The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: The Ultimate Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed. (http://www.amazon.com/Deluxe-Transitive-Vampire-Ultimate-Handbook/dp/0679418601/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1405581872&sr=1-1&keywords=the+deluxe+transitive+vampire)

Duncan J Macdonald
07-17-2014, 11:16 PM
A good site for Grammar is the Perdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) (https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/)

heza
07-18-2014, 12:45 AM
A complex structure isn't wrong: An eerie silence started spreading across the room, after everyone had stopped breathing.

Chase, can you point to a rule that explains this one? I always thought it was "After everyone had stopped breathing,..." but "... across the room after everyone stopped breathing."

fivetoesten
07-18-2014, 12:59 AM
A complex structure isn't wrong: An eerie silence started spreading across the room, after everyone had stopped breathing.

If I wrote that I would have left the comma out altogether. Yes? No?

Chase
07-18-2014, 01:37 AM
Chase, can you point to a rule that explains this one? I always thought it was "After everyone had stopped breathing,..." but "... across the room after everyone stopped breathing."


If I wrote that I would have left the comma out altogether. Yes? No?

You're both writing it correctly. I should have qualified "isn't wrong" by adding that it's optional when the subordinate clause trails.

In complex structures, the comma is required when the subordinate clause precedes. The rule is the same as Comma Rule 3*, so it's seldom listed with the five necessary comma rules:
Because she practiced prodigiously, Anne seldom missed a clay pigeon.

When the subordinate clause trails (as you both point out), the comma has long been optional:
Anne seldom missed a clay pigeon because she practiced prodigiously.

However, it's not wrong:
Anne seldom missed a clay pigeon, because she practiced prodigiously.

It's a style choice much like the hotly debated serial (Oxford) comma.


*Comma Rule Number 2: A comma is necessary to separate a long introductory element before a main clause. Rule 2 holds true for both simple and complex constructions:
Even though ignorant of our culture, we must always be kind to strangers. (Simple)
Since Constance is new to our company, all of us should strive to help her. (Complex)