Author Topic: Is there a better way to punctuate this?  (Read 719 times)  

Offline paranormal_kitty

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Is there a better way to punctuate this?
« on: August 15, 2017, 05:42:49 PM »
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The two people in the image were instantly familiar to Lily: the man, tall and slim in his tailored suit, with friendly coffee-colored eyes and deep brown skin; the little girl on his lap, aged five or so, dark pigtails, large, bright-green eyes and a healthy smattering of freckles.

I keep thinking it looks weird because of the colon and semicolon in the same sentence, but when spoken out loud it sounds all right. It's a description of a drawing. If you need wider context:

Quote
She sat next to him. He took out one of his sketchbooks, opened it to a colored-pencil drawing and handed it to her. The two people in the image were instantly familiar to Lily: the man, tall and slim in his tailored suit, with friendly coffee-colored eyes and deep brown skin; the little girl on his lap, aged five or so, dark pigtails, large, bright-green eyes and a healthy smattering of freckles. Their happy faces seemed so far away now. A sad smile spread across her face. "It's me and my dad. Where'd you find the photo?"
« Last Edit: August 15, 2017, 05:54:07 PM by paranormal_kitty »

Offline SamanthaChapman

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Re: Is there a better way to punctuate this?
« Reply #1 on: August 15, 2017, 05:49:20 PM »
That's the way I would do it, I was taught to use semicolons instead of commas when separating items in a list that come after a colon, or when separating items that themselves use commas. So you're good on both counts as far as i'm concerned. :) 

Offline margdean56

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Re: Is there a better way to punctuate this?
« Reply #2 on: August 15, 2017, 06:14:05 PM »
The sentence looks very clear and well-structured to me. The punctuation is doing its job!

Offline paranormal_kitty

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Re: Is there a better way to punctuate this?
« Reply #3 on: August 15, 2017, 06:39:29 PM »
Thanks guys :) It looked weird to me, but I think I spent too much time in journalism where they push you to have short sentences.

Offline J. Tanner

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Re: Is there a better way to punctuate this?
« Reply #4 on: August 15, 2017, 07:39:19 PM »
Just as a counterpoint thought experiment...

Grammar-wise, it's correct.

For nonfiction, it's spot on.

For literary fiction, it's fine because readers tend to have a fondness for language itself.

For genre fiction, I like to avoid colons and semicolons altogether. I also omit commas that aren't improving clarity. So I'd minimally rewrite so that the idea can be expressed in a way where periods and commas are sufficient. Think about reading it out loud where you can't hear the colon or semicolon--does it make sense? If so, then periods and commas can probably do the job even if they are less grammatically correct.

(You'll find this style in a lot of trade-pub genre fiction and I like it, so I adopted these conventions. This isn't a "better" thing at all, just a different choice and one I think genre readers tend to unconsciously like because the meaning of colon/semicolon isn't always so clear to the casual reader. And that results in a tiny speedbump out of immersion which you can avoid if/when you choose.)
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Re: Is there a better way to punctuate this?
« Reply #5 on: August 16, 2017, 02:18:21 AM »
You might consider hyphenating the 'deep brown'  but otherwise it looks OK to me although if you are a serial or Oxford comma user, there are two missing :)
 If not then it looks good if a little lengthy.
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Offline EllieDee

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Re: Is there a better way to punctuate this?
« Reply #6 on: August 16, 2017, 03:02:45 AM »
Everything sounds right to my grammar 'ear.'  If you're still nervous, you can always split it into a couple of sentences.   :)

Offline oakwood

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Re: Is there a better way to punctuate this?
« Reply #7 on: August 16, 2017, 03:38:04 AM »
I would kill the semicolon for the simple reason that readers in fiction these days rarely see them. it might glitch their flow and make them go, ok I get it but it's weird.. Obviously, it'll depend on the genre and audience; in a biography I would keep it and in light fiction Il'd kill it.

The two people in the image were instantly familiar to Lily: the man, tall and slim in his tailored suit, with friendly coffee-colored eyes and deep brown skin; the little girl on his lap, aged five or so, dark pigtails, large, bright-green eyes and a healthy smattering of freckles.

unsolicited but I'm waiting for a call with nothing to do so here's a couple of versions :)

The two people in the image were instantly familiar to Lily. A tall and slim man in a tailored suit with friendly eyes and deep brown skin with a little girl on his lap. She was aged five or so with dark pigtails, large bright-green eyes and a healthy smattering of freckles.

The above breaks a bunch of rules, becomes almost unreadable and fumbles the order since the the suit would here seem to have the friendly eyes.. The text says the man is tall and slim while to have the girl on his lap he's probably sitting, if so, it'd  be hard to judge his height... and since two were indicated in the first sentence they may ought to have separate descriptions

The two people in the image were instantly familiar to Lily. Seated on a chair was a slim man in a tailored suit with a little girl on his lap. He had friendly eyes and deep brown skin. The girl might have been five or so and had dark pigtails, large green eyes and a healthy smattering of freckles.

The two people in the image were instantly familiar to Lily. Seated on a chair was a slim man in a tailored suit. He had friendly eyes and deep brown skin. A little girl of about five sat on his lap. She had dark pigtails, large green eyes and a healthy smattering of freckles.

The two people in the image were instantly familiar to Lily. A slim man wearing a tailored suit sat on a chair with a little girl on his lap. He had dark brown skin and friendly eyes. She might have been five or so with dark pigtails, large green eyes and a healthy smattering of freckles.

The two people in the image were instantly familiar to Lily. A slim man in a tailored suit sat on a chair with a little girl in his lap. He had dark brown skin and friendly eyes. The girl might have been five or so and had dark pigtails, large green eyes and a healthy smattering of freckles.
« Last Edit: August 16, 2017, 03:51:59 AM by oakwood »

Offline shimmering

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Re: Is there a better way to punctuate this?
« Reply #8 on: August 16, 2017, 04:18:16 AM »
looks fine as it is.

Offline paranormal_kitty

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Re: Is there a better way to punctuate this?
« Reply #9 on: August 16, 2017, 04:51:46 AM »
You might consider hyphenating the 'deep brown'  but otherwise it looks OK to me although if you are a serial or Oxford comma user, there are two missing :)
 If not then it looks good if a little lengthy.

Oh, good point, especially since I used the hyphen for "bright-green." I'm not a serial comma user because I never had the habit of using it, so I think I would just forget half the time if I started now.

I would kill the semicolon for the simple reason that readers in fiction these days rarely see them. it might glitch their flow and make them go, ok I get it but it's weird.. Obviously, it'll depend on the genre and audience; in a biography I would keep it and in light fiction Il'd kill it.

The two people in the image were instantly familiar to Lily: the man, tall and slim in his tailored suit, with friendly coffee-colored eyes and deep brown skin; the little girl on his lap, aged five or so, dark pigtails, large, bright-green eyes and a healthy smattering of freckles.

unsolicited but I'm waiting for a call with nothing to do so here's a couple of versions :)

The two people in the image were instantly familiar to Lily. A tall and slim man in a tailored suit with friendly eyes and deep brown skin with a little girl on his lap. She was aged five or so with dark pigtails, large bright-green eyes and a healthy smattering of freckles.

The above breaks a bunch of rules, becomes almost unreadable and fumbles the order since the the suit would here seem to have the friendly eyes.. The text says the man is tall and slim while to have the girl on his lap he's probably sitting, if so, it'd  be hard to judge his height... and since two were indicated in the first sentence they may ought to have separate descriptions

The two people in the image were instantly familiar to Lily. Seated on a chair was a slim man in a tailored suit with a little girl on his lap. He had friendly eyes and deep brown skin. The girl might have been five or so and had dark pigtails, large green eyes and a healthy smattering of freckles.

The two people in the image were instantly familiar to Lily. Seated on a chair was a slim man in a tailored suit. He had friendly eyes and deep brown skin. A little girl of about five sat on his lap. She had dark pigtails, large green eyes and a healthy smattering of freckles.

The two people in the image were instantly familiar to Lily. A slim man wearing a tailored suit sat on a chair with a little girl on his lap. He had dark brown skin and friendly eyes. She might have been five or so with dark pigtails, large green eyes and a healthy smattering of freckles.

The two people in the image were instantly familiar to Lily. A slim man in a tailored suit sat on a chair with a little girl in his lap. He had dark brown skin and friendly eyes. The girl might have been five or so and had dark pigtails, large green eyes and a healthy smattering of freckles.

Hmm. After seeing it done other ways, I do think I prefer the original. It fits much better with the pace of that scene and how she's thinking at that time. The "tall" aspect not being visible from the drawing is a good point, but on the other hand she's looking at her father and her younger self so she would know things that aren't discernable from the image. This scene is serving two purposes: to describe the father to the reader before he makes his appearance and to further the relationship between the MC (Lily) and her love interest (the guy who drew the picture for her). So I'll have to think about that.

Offline P.T. Phronk

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Re: Is there a better way to punctuate this?
« Reply #10 on: August 16, 2017, 05:47:20 AM »
One grammar thing that I don't think has been mentioned yet is that the sentence is missing an "and."

Quote
The two people in the image were instantly familiar to Lily: the man, tall and slim in his tailored suit, with friendly coffee-colored eyes and deep brown skin; AND the little girl on his lap, aged five or so, dark pigtails, large, bright-green eyes and a healthy smattering of freckles.

In this case, the semicolon is replacing commas in a list with items that have internal commas. If it were simpler, your version would read:

Quote
The two people in the image were familiar: the man, the girl.

Maybe that's why it doesn't sound quite right without "and," even in the more complex sentence. That's the grammar side. As others have mentioned, it might not be the best stylistic choice, regardless of grammatical correctness.

I used to be heavy into the semicolons, but after some editors thought they stood out too much, and Kurt Vonnegut Jr. kept berating me from beyond the grave, I tried to cut back. I still throw one in there once in a while just to get my fix though.

Online she-la-ti-da

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Re: Is there a better way to punctuate this?
« Reply #11 on: August 16, 2017, 06:07:09 AM »
Everything sounds right to my grammar 'ear.'  If you're still nervous, you can always split it into a couple of sentences.   :)

This was going to be my suggestion. For fiction, sometimes it's easier and clearer to simply rewrite awkward sentences, though they may be grammatically correct. Up to you.
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Offline proofreadanytime.ms

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Re: Is there a better way to punctuate this?
« Reply #12 on: August 16, 2017, 09:15:19 AM »
One grammar thing that I don't think has been mentioned yet is that the sentence is missing an "and."

In this case, the semicolon is replacing commas in a list with items that have internal commas. If it were simpler, your version would read:

Maybe that's why it doesn't sound quite right without "and," even in the more complex sentence. That's the grammar side. As others have mentioned, it might not be the best stylistic choice, regardless of grammatical correctness.

I used to be heavy into the semicolons, but after some editors thought they stood out too much, and Kurt Vonnegut Jr. kept berating me from beyond the grave, I tried to cut back. I still throw one in there once in a while just to get my fix though.

According to the punctuation & grammar rules, there would be no "AND" after the semicolon. A semicolon is used to join two independent clauses & it can be replaced by a comma & a coordination conjunction like, and.

So, the sentence would be --
"The two people in the image were familiar: the man; the girl."

Offline proofreadanytime.ms

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Re: Is there a better way to punctuate this?
« Reply #13 on: August 16, 2017, 09:26:10 AM »
I keep thinking it looks weird because of the colon and semicolon in the same sentence, but when spoken out loud it sounds all right. It's a description of a drawing. If you need wider context:

It's a perfectly grammatically correct sentence.

Since a colon is used to introduce a text that gives more information about the previous sentence;
here after the colon, the text is describing the information about the two people who were instantly familiar to Lily.

And the semicolon is used to connect closely related independent clauses;
here the semicolon is used to connect the descriptions about the two people who were familiar to Lily(the man & the girl).


 

Offline MaryBlaisdell

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Re: Is there a better way to punctuate this?
« Reply #14 on: August 16, 2017, 10:44:52 AM »
Does anyone have evidence that colons and semi-colons will act as 'speed-bumps' for casual readers? I'd suspect that non-writers, non-proofreaders won't even 'see' them.

Offline J. Tanner

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Re: Is there a better way to punctuate this?
« Reply #15 on: August 16, 2017, 11:38:02 AM »
Does anyone have evidence that colons and semi-colons will act as 'speed-bumps' for casual readers?

Seem unlikely you'll find a peer-reviewed study that will hold up in court.  :D Everything I've read is more in the art-theory vein. (And then of course the practical revelation that I've read hundreds of trade-pub novels without encountering one and never noticed their absence, or missed them. But I sure notice them now on the rare occasion I cross one.)

Quote
I'd suspect that non-writers, non-proofreaders won't even 'see' them.

If that's the counter argument, why would you want to use a form of punctuation that your typical reader didn't even understand the subtle meaning of? (Again, this is devil's advocate mode. It's an artistic option and choosing absolute proper grammar is equally valid if the theory itself doesn't appeal.)
« Last Edit: August 16, 2017, 12:22:27 PM by J. Tanner »
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Offline oakwood

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Re: Is there a better way to punctuate this?
« Reply #16 on: August 16, 2017, 12:18:44 PM »
Does anyone have evidence that colons and semi-colons will act as 'speed-bumps' for casual readers? I'd suspect that non-writers, non-proofreaders won't even 'see' them.

Speed-bump for sure. The average (non-writer) reader won't know exactly why that semi-colon is there.

Go ahead and ask people around you: when and why is a ; used?  ;)

Offline Flay Otters

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Re: Is there a better way to punctuate this?
« Reply #17 on: August 16, 2017, 02:17:48 PM »
No comma after large. You only need commas between equal adjectives.
Otherwise fine.

Offline P.T. Phronk

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Re: Is there a better way to punctuate this?
« Reply #18 on: August 16, 2017, 02:28:12 PM »
According to the punctuation & grammar rules, there would be no "AND" after the semicolon. A semicolon is used to join two independent clauses & it can be replaced by a comma & a coordination conjunction like, and.

So, the sentence would be --
"The two people in the image were familiar: the man; the girl."

I think you're mixing up two different uses of a semicolon here. Yes, it can be used to join two independent clauses, but that's not going on here. For one thing, they're not independent clauses at all (they wouldn't stand alone as sentences). But that's okay, because that isn't the role the semicolon plays here.

Instead, it's replacing commas in a list, where commas would be confusing due to each item containing its own commas. It's not replacing "and"; it's replacing commas where they would be needed in a list.

In this case there are only two items, so if you were listing the two of them, you'd just write "the man and the girl." But that doesn't mean the semicolon suddenly changes roles and replaces "and." It emphasizes that the two comma-filled items are separate, and would be separated by commas in a longer list, but the "and" is still needed.

Grammar Girl explains this nicely: http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/how-to-use-semicolons?page=2

Another option would be to just replace the semicolon with a comma. Because there are only two items, the sentence is still pretty clear to me without the semicolon when the required "and" is added in:

Quote
The two people in the image were instantly familiar to Lily: the man, tall and slim in his tailored suit, with friendly coffee-colored eyes and deep brown skin, and the little girl on his lap, aged five or so, dark pigtails, large, bright-green eyes and a healthy smattering of freckles.

(But again, I'd just rewrite it to avoid all this, like many others have said)

Offline SamanthaChapman

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Re: Is there a better way to punctuate this?
« Reply #19 on: August 16, 2017, 02:49:41 PM »
The semicolon gives the sentence a different cadence, though.  Using "and" instead of simply the break makes it feel less poetic, to me.  To some extent, I also like the semicolon list because it keeps all of the items feeling equally as important as one another, while in a traditional list I always subconsciously assign lesser importance to the items that come later.

Even if it would be more perfectly grammatical, I don't think an "and" is necessary.

Offline ellenoc

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Re: Is there a better way to punctuate this?
« Reply #20 on: August 16, 2017, 03:08:40 PM »
In the old fashioned punctuation I was taught and still follow, you wouldn't use a hyphen for either dark brown skin or bright green eyes. Dark modifies brown, not skin. Bright modifies green, not eyes. Contrast with blue-green eyes, where both blue and green modify eyes.

For me the colon and semi-colon work fine, and I don't believe readers are so delicate they couldn't handle it. What gave me pause reading the sentence was one comma after another in "so, dark pigtails, large, bright...." I'd give up "large" rather than keep all those commas, but that's preference rather than correct/incorrect.

Offline Flay Otters

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Re: Is there a better way to punctuate this?
« Reply #21 on: August 16, 2017, 04:29:36 PM »
In the old fashioned punctuation I was taught and still follow, you wouldn't use a hyphen for either dark brown skin or bright green eyes. Dark modifies brown, not skin. Bright modifies green, not eyes. Contrast with blue-green eyes, where both blue and green modify eyes.

Needless to say there's always somebody out there to contradict you :)
The example used was light green.
So "light-green eyes", but "her eyes were light green" (light-green modifies eyes and light modifies green - and scissors cut paper).
But what do I know, make of it what you will:  https://www.dailywritingtips.com/how-to-punctuate-descriptions-of-colors/

Offline ellenoc

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Re: Is there a better way to punctuate this?
« Reply #22 on: August 16, 2017, 05:09:44 PM »
Needless to say there's always somebody out there to contradict you :)
The example used was light green.
So "light-green eyes", but "her eyes were light green" (light-green modifies eyes and light modifies green - and scissors cut paper).
But what do I know, make of it what you will:  https://www.dailywritingtips.com/how-to-punctuate-descriptions-of-colors/

Yup. I suppose I'll stop considering it wrong when I see it your way, but I'll continue to do it my way. :) Communications Handbook for Secretaries (used as a standard in some offices and to teach in schools like Katherine Gibbs back in the Dark Ages):

Special Compounds Always Hyphenated

(a) Color combinations:

     blue-green     pink-beige

But note that no hyphen is used when the first word modifies the second:

     bluish green     pale pink

One thing we'd agree on I guess is that whichever way, it needs consistency, so if you say bright-green eyes, you have to say dark-brown skin.

I see a lot of stuff that gives me pause and I don't like these days, e.g., she weeped; he leaped; the sun shined (instead of irregular verbs, wept, leapt, and shone). I'm trying to ignore it all and should just stay out of threads like this one.

Offline Flay Otters

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Re: Is there a better way to punctuate this?
« Reply #23 on: August 16, 2017, 07:10:04 PM »
Yup. I suppose I'll stop considering it wrong when I see it your way,
Technically it isn't my way. :)
I'm a pretty smart guy and I had no idea there was a rule like that (or not a rule like that, as I'm still none the wiser).
As I said, you say tomayto there's some smart alec out there to tell you it's tomahto. And argue about it.
I mostly gave up commenting on grammar questions as I have decided there are no rules. There are only conventions invented for consistency.
And ever since the idiot Noah Webster ruined American spelling (he wanted to spell soup "soop" for crying out loud) I realized THERE ARE NO RULES.
Until everyone gets over quoting some illiterate style book here or there and admits THERE ARE NO RULES I'll keep my mouth shut about grammar.
Strunk and White, what a pair of maroons.
FYI this isn't rocket science, THERE ARE NO RULES, just conventions.

Offline proofreadanytime.ms

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Re: Is there a better way to punctuate this?
« Reply #24 on: August 16, 2017, 08:47:42 PM »
I think you're mixing up two different uses of a semicolon here. Yes, it can be used to join two independent clauses, but that's not going on here. For one thing, they're not independent clauses at all (they wouldn't stand alone as sentences). But that's okay, because that isn't the role the semicolon plays here.

Instead, it's replacing commas in a list, where commas would be confusing due to each item containing its own commas. It's not replacing "and"; it's replacing commas where they would be needed in a list.

In this case there are only two items, so if you were listing the two of them, you'd just write "the man and the girl." But that doesn't mean the semicolon suddenly changes roles and replaces "and." It emphasizes that the two comma-filled items are separate, and would be separated by commas in a longer list, but the "and" is still needed.

Grammar Girl explains this nicely: http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/how-to-use-semicolons?page=2

Another option would be to just replace the semicolon with a comma. Because there are only two items, the sentence is still pretty clear to me without the semicolon when the required "and" is added in:

(But again, I'd just rewrite it to avoid all this, like many others have said)

Agreed on your "list" point. The semicolon here is used to replace a comma & a coordinating conjunction(and) which I also observed earlier. We can use and with the semicolon or just a semicolon, it all depends on the writer.
:-)