em dash and semicolons

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em dash and semicolons

Post by Garmar on Wed Jun 03, 2009 9:41 pm

I read this statement on another writing site today.
you should not use both a semicolon and an em dash in the same sentence!
This made me scratch my head a bit because I couldn't find any precedence for such a statement. (Also, this was written by someone who is very knowledgeable about such matters.)

So I constructed this sentence - Semicolons and em dashes are oft used correctly by most writers; some do not, but correct usage can be learned--if one cares to anyway.

And I got this response back.
Any such sentence is guaranteed to stagger like a drunk in an earthquake.
Can anyone explain to me why the above sentence is incorrect? Because the response I got when I pushed this further (asking for sources) was, "If it's not a rule, it should be." And more above how semicolons are overused.

Can anyone shed some light on this for me? confused

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Re: em dash and semicolons

Post by ebyss on Thu Jun 04, 2009 12:24 pm

I haven't the foggiest. Does that shed some light? LOL!!

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Re: em dash and semicolons

Post by Garmar on Thu Jun 04, 2009 1:05 pm

I did get a pretty good reply back from the moderator there (that's who I was chatting with). I guess there is a movement towards clearer punctuation--meaning less of it--so us "uneducated" Americans can handle the system better. sarcasm

Just joking! Kinda sorta. Punctuation rules have morphed since the first sign of it appeared. I guess we're in a transition now, and probably have been for awhile, but I'm not sure exactly why so many folks are crying, "Semicolons are overused!" I've read that in formal writing you should avoid semicolons, but informally (creative writing) is okay. So, again, I have no clue.

So if anyone can explain this better I would appreciate it!

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Re: em dash and semicolons

Post by Lady Goodman on Thu Jun 04, 2009 3:55 pm

The only thing I know about semicolons, is that my Brit Lit instructor believes that they are also very overused.

She told us that a semicolon should ONLY be used when the clauses are strong enough in relation to where they could be two separate sentences, but hold a stronger relationship put into one.

"Semicolons and em dashes are oft used correctly by most writers; some do not, but correct usage can be learned--if one cares to anyway."

According to her rules, the semicolon should be used there because of the relationship between what is being said. I think the em dash is the problem. The "if one cares to anyway" doesn't relate enough to the first dependent clause to be included in the same sentence. Though it relates to the second sentence, it tears away from the relationship to the first. Either the semicolon or the em dash would need to become a period.

Make sense?
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Re: em dash and semicolons

Post by Lady Goodman on Thu Jun 04, 2009 3:57 pm

To better clarify... seperate the sentence into it's appropriate clauses.

"Semicolons and em dashes are oft used correctly by most writers."
"Some do not, but correct usage can be learned."
"If one cares to anyway."

The sentence - "Semicolons and em dashes are oft used correctly by most writers - if one cares to anyway." - holds no relationship to one another. Thereby, putting them in the same sentence doesn't read right.
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Re: em dash and semicolons

Post by Garmar on Thu Jun 04, 2009 4:57 pm

See there, I got a great answer that makes perfect sense to me from someone on our "little" site. Out of over ten thousand members I didn't get anything but, "You just shouldn't do it!"

Just goes to show you that you shouldn't trade quality for quantity!

Thank you!

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Re: em dash and semicolons

Post by Lady Goodman on Thu Jun 04, 2009 5:01 pm

Haha. Yay for quality!
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Re: em dash and semicolons

Post by Guest on Thu Jun 04, 2009 6:42 pm

Gary, I have received and read advice proffered by those who are considered imminently knowledgeable and thought to myself, "Poppycock!" What is both the blessing and the curse of English is that there is no defined group or academy which prevails over choices in style. (Yup, here I go again on this rant.) Any time someone makes such declarative statements on style, I feel honour bound to find as many exceptions as I can think of. Both the semi colon and the em dash are, for reasons I cannot fathom, the subject of much scorn. They exist. They have a purpose. They are not just some thingamajig that you find at the bottom of your kitchen junk drawer and wonder, "What in blazes....?" To say that both items cannot be included in the same sentence is ridiculous; I would not be hard pressed to come up with a dozen examples to the contrary-- assuming I cared enough. rolleyes


Last edited by Wreybies on Thu Jun 04, 2009 7:32 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Re: em dash and semicolons

Post by Lady Goodman on Thu Jun 04, 2009 7:17 pm

Hahaha. Fiesty! I like that explanation much better ^_^
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Re: em dash and semicolons

Post by Guest on Thu Jun 04, 2009 7:40 pm

Lady Goodman wrote:Hahaha. Fiesty! I like that explanation much better ^_^

I have a feeling I know who gave Gary that advice and I get a little irked because, well, it's old-school. There are some new British writers I have been reading who play with syntax and word choice, punctuation and sentence construction in ways that would get a flat out smack down from those eminently knowledgeable sages. And these new writers I am reading are freaking brilliant! Did it take me a bit to get into them given their strange, novel (as in new) style? Yes. But once I did, man was I totally humbled by their genius. Get you some China Mieville if you wanna know what I'm talking about. And there are old school writers like Samuel R. Delany that "write outside the lines" and are brilliant.

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Re: em dash and semicolons

Post by Garmar on Thu Jun 04, 2009 8:32 pm

I have a feeling I know who gave Gary that advice and I get a little irked because, well, it's old-school
I have a feeling you are correct about your feeling. biggrin

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Re: em dash and semicolons

Post by NaClmine on Sun Jun 07, 2009 9:16 pm

There is one whopper of a problem with using "too many semicolons" or mixing semicolons and em dashes . . . perception.

Everyone knows maia's criticism often includes her own bias, in addition to actual fact. That said, her standards also tend to mimic an important industry-wide bias; one long held by literary agents, copy editors and publishers. Manuscripts violating such implied "rules" may get round-filed without much consideration. The author can become labeled, quite unfairly, as an "amateur" and his/her work is not given a fair reading. For that reason alone, I would recommend that first time authors walk lightly in the semicolon minefield. At the very least, write the first half of your work with a minimum of deviations from the industry "norms" so that your story will not provide any early excuses for rejection. Save your literary rebellion for after you have become a successful novelist.
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Re: em dash and semicolons

Post by Garmar on Sun Jun 07, 2009 9:42 pm

Manuscripts violating such implied "rules" may get round-filed without much consideration.
I hadn't considered that aspect of the issue, but I agree. To be honest, I can't see myself ever coming upon a situation where I would have to use them both together in one sentence; 99% of the time, more mainstream punctuation will suffice. I was trying to figure out whether this is a rule, or a standard change on its way to becoming a rule. It appears to be the latter.

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Re: em dash and semicolons

Post by Guest on Mon Jun 08, 2009 12:56 pm

@ Saulty - Yes, I often forget the age range and the skill level at the playground.
I have to remember to remember to whom Maia is directing her advice.

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Re: em dash and semicolons

Post by Guest on Mon Jun 08, 2009 3:57 pm

NaClime makes the point that governs my writing, and my critiques. Do it the way that sells. FDR (old story) was once approached by a person who complained that he, as a candidate, wasn't talking much about unpopular things he would have to do if he got elected. He said something like, "First you have to get elected. Until that happens you can accomplish nothing." I may have the story wrong, but I think I got the gist of it right.

For us, it is first you HAVE to get published and prove your work sells. Until then you can accomplish nothing.

My personal philosophy is that writing for general public consumption is quite new. Mass printing has been around less than a hundred and fifty years. The oral tradition dates back at least 6,000 years, possible ten times that. I would submit that the ’best’ way to tell a story in writing is to make the reader believe you are there, telling it in person, then be a good enough story teller to be able to make your audience live it with you. It is a very difficult goal to reach, but worth it.

Sure, without some kind of system we would all be trying to read James Joyce, but I think the standards imposed by many editors are more a shortcut to reduce the workload than a way of identifying substandard manuscripts.

I believe the original purpose of grammar and punctuation was to replicate the nuances of speech. Any rules which do not support that purpose are limiting the ability of the writer to communicate.

At a book signing, weekend before last, a name author (NYTT level) said he organized his writing to replicate the verbal tradition that has been established for thousands of years, because he felt it was the most effective approach! Major shot to the ego.
CS

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Re: em dash and semicolons

Post by Sam W on Tue Jun 09, 2009 12:54 pm

First of all, the notion that you can't use a semicolon and an em-dash in the same sentence is complete and utter codswallop. It is one of those "rules" bandied about on forums by people who are trying to sound like they know what it is they're talking about, and most of the time it's actually quite the opposite.

I do agree with Dean, however, in that you should try to get your work to the level which publishers demand, and if that means no semicolons, so be it. But if you let yourself get bogged down by these "rules", you'll live your entire writing career being too afraid to write anything. Trust me, I know. I've been down that path.

Just write the story. Contrary to what people tell you, that's the most important thing, and it's the reason why authors like Dan Brown, who aren't the best technical writers you'll ever meet, are laughing all the way to the bank -- because they can tell damned good stories.

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Re: em dash and semicolons

Post by Garmar on Tue Jun 09, 2009 4:24 pm

Some of the members over there are possessed with the idea that an em dash indicates a strong pause and a semicolon indicates a mild pause. Razz

Right...

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Re: em dash and semicolons

Post by Lady Goodman on Tue Jun 09, 2009 4:28 pm

So,:- (take all the pauses you want)

Now, a comma is a slight pause, a semicolon is a mild pause and a em dash is a strong pause?


-By the way, what exactly is a "mild" pause. It's more than a slight pause but not quite enough to constitute a full "end of dependent clause" pause?
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Re: em dash and semicolons

Post by Sam W on Tue Jun 09, 2009 5:22 pm

Garmar wrote:Some of the members over there are possessed with the idea that an em dash indicates a strong pause and a semicolon indicates a mild pause. Razz

Right...

Complete bollocks. Where are these people getting this crap from?

An em-dash, so called because the width of the dash is the same width as the letter M, is used to add information to a sentence where parenthetic commas would not work. So, something like this:

"Joe—whose father had served in the Army ten years earlier but had dropped out—was determined to become a soldier."

An en-dash, so called because the width of the dash is the same length as the letter N, is used to add extra emphasis to a sentence. For example:

"Joe was a soldier – a great one."

Bad example, but you get the point. Those two (en- and em-) have been known to be interchanged depending on your country.

A semi-colon is used where two sentences are directly related to each other but not separated by a conjunction. So, from my latest work, actually:

"He tried to move, to react, but something cold came to rest against his jaw before he could; a rifle."

Those two sentences are related. The second one tells you what the item that came to rest against his jaw was. It does not have a conjoining word, though. Use a comma and it becomes a fragment sentence. Use a full-stop and it loses immediacy. A semicolon is used because the two sentences are related directly. It's NOTHING got to do with short or long pauses. That's complete and utter horse manure.

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Re: em dash and semicolons

Post by Lady Goodman on Tue Jun 09, 2009 5:24 pm

Yay for more quality!
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Re: em dash and semicolons

Post by Garmar on Tue Jun 09, 2009 6:07 pm

Sam is correct. And I'll be damned if I'm going to try to correct the "experts" over there that are trying to pass off misconceptions as facts.

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Re: em dash and semicolons

Post by Guest on Tue Jun 09, 2009 7:41 pm

One day I would like to open a bar or pub and call it The Em Dash, just cuz' it has that certain je ne sais quoi sound and because it inspires such controversy.

We'll be packed every night, I'm sure! biggrin

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Re: em dash and semicolons

Post by Garmar on Wed Jun 10, 2009 8:31 pm

Oh, man.

I'm so gonna rename the RG Chatroom The Em Dash. biggrin

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Re: em dash and semicolons

Post by Lady Goodman on Mon Jun 15, 2009 7:37 pm

Bah. So I never foresaw a reason why I would EVER use this "rule"... but I just typed this in my chapter and laughed.

"Nothing ripping at my skin, nothing tearing or pulling; it just felt like my face did -bruised and swollen."

cheers
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Re: em dash and semicolons

Post by Guest on Wed Jun 17, 2009 11:14 am

Here are the real rules according to chuck!

If you wrote it so that the reader notices the punctuation, IT'S WRONG

If you wrote it so the reader reads the story without noticing the punctuation IT'S RIGHT.

How's that for an ignorant newbie self appointed ‘ex-drip under pressure’ showing his sheer unmitigated arrogance?

CS

PS. But I do listen to all the advice and 'rules'. I just apply them as and when I think they work best.

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