Paul's Grammar Corner
Having mastered the first three punctuation marks, the capital letter (more of a grammar issue then punctuation, admittedly), the full stop (or period) and the comma, it's time to play with the big boys.
This is the punctuation mark that is formed by placing one full stop over another, thus:
There are three legitimate uses for a colon:
- To join together two main clauses where the second explains the first.
- To start a list.
- Occasionally before reporting speech.
I always remember the first example by thinking that the second clause cashes the cheque (US check) you wrote in the first clause. " I like garlic: it keeps my wife and vampires away." The first clause should always make sense in its own right. Thus, "I like garlic" stands on its own as a complete sentence.
Lists are self-explanatory. "I need you to bring along a few things: handcuffs, rope, gaffer tape and some large hooks."
And lastly, you may use a colon before reporting speech, like this:
Someone once said of my wife: "She has much in common with Adolph Hitler: they both liked dogs".
Note that in the last example I used example 3 and example 1 together. Also note that some sources have it that the speech that the colon precedes should be at least 3 lines in length. I've overlooked that rule in the example because there is a huge difference of opinion among grammarians about its rigidity.
A semi-colon is formed by placing a full stop over a comma, like this ;
A semi-colon, or semicolon, joins together two independent clauses without using and, nor, but and yet.
"I'll be 58 soon; it's been a long, hard life."
Each clause must make grammatical sense in its own right and must stand alone. So, "I'm 58 soon" is a complete sentence, and so is "It's been a long, hard life."
Another use for the semi-colon is where you have punctuation in each of the clauses and you still want them to remain separate. For example:
I like chicken, ham and pork; I dislike beef, lamb and kangaroo.
Written with commas, we would have a poor sentence: "i like chicken,ham and pork, I dislike beef, lamb and kangaroo". A comma allows you the briefest of pauses; a semi-colon allows a full breath, and a full stop creates a dead halt.
A further use of the semi-colon provides what one writer describes as a "super comma". Look at the following sentence written with just commas:
I travelled to London, England, Paris, France, Sydney, Australia, and Hamburg, Germany.
Confusing ain't it?
Let's try it with semi-colons replacing each country group:
I travelled to London, England; Paris, France; Sydney, Australia, and Hamburg, Germany.
You may also notice (if you've paid attention to previous lessons) that I've inserted an Oxford comma in both of the sentences after the word "Australia". The rule is that generally you shouldn't need a comma before the word "and", but without it you get: "London, England; Paris, France; Sydney, Australia and Hamburg, Germany," which gives the impression that Sydney, Australia and Hamburg are all in Germany. They're not.
The nest lesson will cover our old enemy the apostrophe. Limber up kids, this one's a doozy.