Sunday, February 4, 2007

semi-colons

I know that semi-colons should not be used when two independent clauses are joined with a conjunction, but someone told me once that a semi-colon should be used if there are commas
present in each of the independent clauses.
Example: Therefore, I thought he said that his sister, Cindy, lives in Alaska; but it turned out that, in fact, she lives in Hawaii.

But then, someone else told me that a punctuation is not needed at all if two clauses joined by the conjunction already have commas within themselves.
Example: Therefore, I thought he said that his sister, Cindy, lives in Alaska but it turned out that, in fact, she lives in Hawaii.

Or should a comma be used?
Example: Therefore, I thought he said that his sister, Cindy, lives in Alaska, but it turned out that, in fact, she lives in Hawaii.

Is there such a thing as too many commas in a sentence?

8 comments:

Pat said...

Example 2 is wrong; please do not punctuate that way. Examples 1 and 3 are fine, and either may be used.

Sections of the latest edition of Chicago Manual that discuss this use of the semicolon are 6.32, 6.57, and 6.59. If you are subscribing to the online edition of visiting the library soon, please take a look at these sections.

I'll try to bring in photocopies on Friday.

Pat said...

In response to your question about the possibility of too many commas, let me quote from the fourteenth edition of CM:

5.2 The tendency to use all the punctuation that the grammatical structure of the material suggests is referred to as close (klos) punctuation. It is a practice that was more common in the past, and though it may be helpful when the writing is elaborate, it can, when misused, produce an uninviting choppiness. There is a tendency today, on the other hand, to punctuate only when necessary to prevent misreading. Most contemporary writers and editors lean toward this open style of punctuation yet preserve a measure of subjectivity and discretion.

Pat said...

Again from the fourteenth edition:

5.93 If the clauses of a compound sentence are very long or are themselves subdivided by commas, a semicolon may be used between them even if they are joined by a conjunction:

Margaret, who had already decided that she would ask the question at the first opprotunity, tried to catch the director's attention as he passed through the anteroom; but the noisy group of people accompanying the director prevented him from noticing her.

5.94 When items in a series are long and complex or involve internal punctuation, they should be separated by semicolons for the sake of clarity:

The membership of the international commission was as follows: France, 4; Germany, 5; Great Britain, 1; Italy, 3; the United States, 7.

The defendant, in an attempt to mitigate his sentence, pleaded that he had been despondent over the death of his wife; that he had lost his job under particularly humiliating circumstances; that his landlady—whom, incidentally, he had once saved from attack—had threatened to have him evicted; that he had not eaten for several days; and that he had, in this weakened condition, been unduly affected by an alcoholic beverage.

Ritchie Mae said...
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Ritchie Mae said...

Therefore, I thought he said that his sister, Cindy, lives in Alaska but it turned out that, in fact, she lives in Hawaii.

Is there a reason, other than the ones you just stated, WHY there should be a comma or semicolon before the word "but"?

(I know this is a dumb question.)

Jill said...

I think there is a comma or semicolon before "but" because "but" is a conjunction.

I hope this isn't a (dumb) wrong answer.

Ritchie Mae said...

You use a comma to separate independent clauses when they are joined by conjunctions such as "and" or "but."

(Sorry, public school never taught me grammar, so I'm learning now.)

Ryan said...

If you are going to use but as a coordinating conjunction between two independent clauses you should use a comma. In this case, but would not be simple conjunction demonstrating unified action.
I think this is right, or at least how I've always understood it.