There is hope for your punctuation, part 1

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This is the first in a series of musings about English punctuation and why it’s so darn hard to get right.

While on the T, I came across a small leaflet proclaiming that “There yet can be Hope for You.” Always looking for a dim ray of hope in an otherwise bleak existence, I continued to read what the Bible Baptist Church had to say.

As it turns out, they had a lot of interesting things to say (interesting in an In Search Of kind of way). Unfortunately, their inspirational message was marred by poor punctuation and magical phrases.

The first misstep comes from the rather misunderstood critter known as the semicolon. Here’s how the leaflet uses a semicolon:

«There seems little use in caring any more; in trying anymore; in going on anymore;»

Semicolons have two primary uses: to connect closely related independent clauses and to denote items in a list of complex clauses. You’ll note that these “rules” require editorial discretion and are far from being unambiguous. The The Chicago Manual of Style has 7 usage rules for semicolons, and a few of those cover when not to use semicolons.

Surely, the last semicolon of this fragment is indefensible. Semicolons never end a sentence. The other semicolons are used a list separators, which is one of the legitimate uses of this mark. However, the list elements are neither long nor complex, so if I were copyeditting this, I would change these to plain old commas. Here’s a more standard looking version of the sentence:

«There seems little use in caring anymore, in trying anymore, in going on anymore.»


That’s all the time I have for today. Next time, I’ll explore why hyphens are not m-dashes.