Writing Forums

Writing Forums is a privately-owned, community managed writing environment. We provide an unlimited opportunity for writers and poets of all abilities, to share their work and communicate with other writers and creative artists. We offer an experience that is safe, welcoming and friendly, regardless of your level of participation, knowledge or skill. There are several opportunities for writers to exchange tips, engage in discussions about techniques, and grow in your craft. You can also participate in forum competitions that are exciting and helpful in building your skill level. There's so much more for you to explore!

Semicolons and Independant Clauses Joined With a Coordinating Conjunction (1 Viewer)

EternalGreen

Senior Member
I read a lot of old books. One stylistic difference I notice in these texts is that the authors use semi-colons to join independent clauses with coordinating conjunctions if they are long and/or complex enough.

Here's what a sentence in an old book might look like: "The air smothered us, the temperature far exceeding ninety degrees; and I turned to my companion to ask about our water supply."

In my mind, this trick can give the text a pleasant antiquated or traditional flavor. More importantly, it helps keep order in the more elaborate sentences they used back then.

An em-dash followed by words like but, and, therefore, or, however can achieve the same effect.

I think that, even in stories about the present day, the old grammar still looks better.
 

Phil Istine

WF Veterans
I read a lot of old books. One stylistic difference I notice in these texts is that the authors use semi-colons to join independent clauses with coordinating conjunctions if they are long and/or complex enough.

Here's what a sentence in an old book might look like: "The air smothered us, the temperature far exceeding ninety degrees; and I turned to my companion to ask about our water supply."

In my mind, this trick can give the text a pleasant antiquated or traditional flavor. More importantly, it helps keep order in the more elaborate sentences they used back then.

An em-dash followed by words like but, and, therefore, or, however can achieve the same effect.

I think that, even in stories about the present day, the old grammar still looks better.

I hadn't noticed that stylistic difference but will look out for it now that someone has mentioned it. When I use a semicolon, it tends to replace a conjunction rather than add to it. I think that's how more do it these days. The old way looks fine though, even though I probably won't adopt it myself.
 

Bloggsworth

WF Veterans
I view emm dashes as a cop-out to be used when undecided as to how to punctuate a passage, that doesn't mean I don't use them, but I think long and hard before I do. To me, colons and semi-colons are analogous to measures in music, an old-fashioned concept I know, but non the less useful for that. Flow is what controls my writing, and any type of punctuation which aids the movement from the beginning to the end is fine by me regardless of whether it is modern or, indeed, anti-deluvian in its origin. I was asked by a tutor at Birkbeck if I had learned Latin; I told her I had; I thought so she said, because you can write long sentences; I took this to mean that I put things in the right order and punctuated them correctly. Unless intentional, don't make your writing jerky as it is then hard to read, which rather defeats the object...
 

Gamer_2k4

WF Veterans
I think I use semicolons like that now and again, to indicate a pause just slightly longer than a comma would imply. Mostly, though, I use them in place of a conjunction.
 

Irwin

Senior Member
Technically, the sentence should be punctuated like this:

"The air smothered us — the temperature far exceeding ninety degrees, and I turned to my companion to ask about our water supply."

The phrase in blue expands upon the first phrase, which is when em-dashes are used. In this case, parentheses could also be used, but an em-dash is more appropriate because it's more emphatic; the phrase is important enough to stop the flow of the sentence. The comma before the conjuncture is more appropriate than a semicolon for flow. The semicolon stops the flow — not to the extent that a period would, but more so than a comma.

Of course, that's if you want to get purely technical. Rules can be broken in novel writing.
 

Gamer_2k4

WF Veterans
Technically, the sentence should be punctuated like this:

"The air smothered us — the temperature far exceeding ninety degrees, and I turned to my companion to ask about our water supply."

The phrase in blue expands upon the first phrase, which is when em-dashes are used. In this case, parentheses could also be used, but an em-dash is more appropriate because it's more emphatic; the phrase is important enough to stop the flow of the sentence. The comma before the conjuncture is more appropriate than a semicolon for flow. The semicolon stops the flow — not to the extent that a period would, but more so than a comma.

Of course, that's if you want to get purely technical. Rules can be broken in novel writing.

That looks rough. I'm no em dash expert, but I'd think a second one would have a better feel than the comma. Once you're treating it as a parenthetical phrase, it should open and close with the same punctuation.
 

Phil Istine

WF Veterans
That looks rough. I'm no em dash expert, but I'd think a second one would have a better feel than the comma. Once you're treating it as a parenthetical phrase, it should open and close with the same punctuation.
That would be my preference too.
 

Irwin

Senior Member
That looks rough. I'm no em dash expert, but I'd think a second one would have a better feel than the comma. Once you're treating it as a parenthetical phrase, it should open and close with the same punctuation.
You may be right that the second one has a better feel, but it's not technically correct. If you take out the parenthetical phrase, that is how it should be punctuated.

Without the parenthetical phrase:
The air smothered us, and I turned to my companion to ask about our water supply.​

Of course, a lot of novelists would leave out the comma in that case so there's no disruption in the flow, but they are two complete, independent sentences joined with a conjunction to form a compound sentence, so they're separated with a comma.

You could add the parenthetical to the first sentence and it would still be correct.
The air smothered us — the temperature far exceeding ninety degrees.​
I turned to my companion to ask about our water supply.​

Combine those two sentences with a conjunction and you wouldn't use another em-dash; you'd use a comma.

Edit: I was wrong, and so was my English professor. When combining those two sentences (according to Gramarly), an em-dash would be used instead of a comma, so it would look like this:
The air smothered us — the temperature far exceeding ninety degrees — and I turned to my companion to ask about our water supply.​
 
Last edited:

TheMightyAz

Staff member
Mentor
Technically, the sentence should be punctuated like this:

"The air smothered us — the temperature far exceeding ninety degrees, and I turned to my companion to ask about our water supply."

The phrase in blue expands upon the first phrase, which is when em-dashes are used. In this case, parentheses could also be used, but an em-dash is more appropriate because it's more emphatic; the phrase is important enough to stop the flow of the sentence. The comma before the conjuncture is more appropriate than a semicolon for flow. The semicolon stops the flow — not to the extent that a period would, but more so than a comma.

Of course, that's if you want to get purely technical. Rules can be broken in novel writing.
Grammar isn't my forte but I'm pretty good at writing sharp prose. It's the terminology that loses and confuses me more than anything, but at least now I know 'parenthetic phrase'. Having said that, from my layman's perspective, that sentence is all kinds of wrong. You've got a complete statement 'The air smothered us' and an 'aside' (parenthetic phrase) 'the temperature far exceeding ninety degrees', which relates to that complete statement.

But both of those are thrown out in the last statement 'and I turned to my companion to ask about our water supply.' Both 'The air smothered us, and I turned' and 'The temperature far exceeded ninety degrees, and I turned' feel clunky and at odds with each other. 'As the air smothered us--the temperature far exceeding ninety degrees--I turned to my companion to ask about our water supply' brings it into a little better focus. As it stands, the comma indicates what follows is an extension of the parenthetic phrase, but it isn't. It's more closely related to the very first statement.
 
Top