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Writing/grammar/punctuation queries

edited March 2016 in Writing
We've always got them, so I thought it might be useful to keep them in one place.

My query:
Would you use a hyphen in the phrase 'newly-empty space'?


  • Yes, I would. I always wonder about hyphens, but when 2 words are connected by context like that, I put them in.

    My query: semi-colon. I can never tell whether to use it or not. I know the 'rules' of when to use one, but somehow, that never seems to help. It was the one thing I got marked down for at uni, and it's bugged me since!
  • edited March 2016
    I use semi-colons when I don't want quite as much of a pause as a full stop would give. The part of the sentence which follows it should give extra information about the first part.

    Here's an example of how I used one in the story I'm working on:

    'The recollection was not engulfing enough to satisfy my physical need; I wanted more.'

    Don't judge me! It's out of context.


    Don't judge me; it's out of context.

    Oops! - edited to change comma to full stop!!!
  • I'm still trying to get my em and en dashes right...

  • Commas before 'but' and 'and' in compound sentences? Schools say yes, but is it the done thing in writing stories? I did it there as it is habit. Is it wrong?
  • Semicolon - two simple sentences joined together by the same topic. You can add connectives after the semicolon (however, furthermore etc) but with commas after connective.
  • I have a semi-colon down as more of a pause than a comma.
  • Yes, Liz. Just noticed I had made a mistake up yonder!

    More than a comma, and less than a full stop.
  • edited March 2016
    You can use a comma before 'but' and 'and', on the grounds that it temporarily terminates what went before those words, and although 'but' and 'and' are joining words, the things being joined could be sufficiently different to need a pause. 'I like my hot cross buns with butter, but Steve prefers his with marmalade.' There, I could have left out 'but' and used a semi-colon instead. 'I like my hot cross buns with butter; Steve prefers his with marmalade.'
    A comma before 'and' is known as an Oxford comma. (I don't care what they call it; I use it if I feel it belongs there.)

    I'm going to blog about em and en dashes, Carol. Can't explain it on this Chromebook as I don't know how to do the em dash on here yet!

    TN, yes to the hyphen in newly-empty space, because it's making a compound word. It's not a newly space, which makes no sense, nor an empty space, in this instance; it's a newly-empty one.

    Semi-colons are a little out of fashion, as are colons, but I use them anyway. They are value-added commas: they do a bigger job than a comma, but they don't bring things to a halt as a full stop does. The two parts of a sentence separated by a semi colon could stand as separate sentences, which is why a comma is no good, but they're more closely related than that would imply.

  • I knew Mrs Bear would come up with the goods.

    Hoorah for Mrs Bear!
  • *accepts hoorahs with a shy furry bow of my floral-hatted head*
  • I'm always, always, told to remove semi colons from dialogue. Indies aren't so fussy and unless they get too carried away I remove what I can and leave the rest.

    En dash – hyphen -
  • That's good to know Baggy Books, maybe I'll just try to avoid them completely.

    Yes, em and en dashes confuse me, I would be interested to know when to use those!
  • I use the less is more strategy with semi-colons generally, though on occasions I may need to use a few more.
  • I don't agree with the hyphen in "newly-empty". It is an adverb phrase. Would you say "newly-married"? I doubt it. "Usually-late"? Surely not. "Normally-aspirated engine"? I don't think so.
  • edited March 2016
    It's context versus correct grammar again... :(

    The only other way around it is 'recently vacated'.

    But then that may be too correct/posh for the character in question, where newly-empty might seem to fit them.
  • Unfortunately, that doesn't work for my context, Carol.
  • And I'd probably use a hyphen there, too!
  • LizLiz
    edited March 2016
    Why would you use a hyphen in newly empty? It's an adverb. Context has nothing to say on the matter. It would always be incorrect.
  • Because it becomes an adjective before 'space'.

    So, why would a hyphen be used for 'gilt-edged sword', for example, but not for 'newly-empty space'?
  • Would you put one in completely empty, or almost empty?

    I don't think it looks completely wrong, but don't think it's necessary either.

  • edited March 2016
    Professional opinion is split on this (using hyphens willy-nilly). More and more it's becoming a style issue - a style that might break rules. Grey areas are full of errors. Once you introduce 'style' you must be consistent. I'd go for TN's hyphen - because of her logic. Welcome to my world.
  • I agree, BB - like semi-colons, the hyphen is subject to fashion or chosen style. Like
    e-mail or email: that's changed since the item itself has become ubiquitous.
    Oxford A-Z of Grammar and punctuation says there is no simple rule: right-handed, for example, takes one as a compound adjective, so why not newly-empty?
    The Oxford A-Z also says they're being used less now, so it's up to you and your own ear, really.
  • This box was completely empty, and is now almost empty: this is now an almost-empty box.
    There's a different nuance there.
  • edited March 2016
    Em dashes: — (alt+ctrl+num-)
    En dashes: – (ctrl+num-)
    Non-breaking hyphen: (ctrl+shift+_)
    The em dash does not have a space on either side; the en dash does, except when it’s used in sequences (eg 2004–2008)
    If you use the em dash to mark an insertion—as I am doing here—it must have no spacings.
    If you use the en dash to mark an insertion – as I am doing here – you must have spacings.
    An em dash is used alone if, for example, you have a line of dialogue breaking off mid-sentence:
    ‘You mean, if I were to—‘ with no space between it and the last word or the closing inverted comma(s).
    You wouldn’t use an en dash in that way.

    While both are correct for insertions, choose one and stick to it; and if approaching a particular publisher, go with the house style.
  • I know what gets me, when it doesn't have a space it feels wrong, so I put spaces in when they shouldn't be there.
  • Then use the en dash every time, Carol - the spaces will be right!
  • re hyphens, I use them if the two things COULD be inseparable, as in e-mail. As one entity, it is one entity. 'Newly empty' is just a description. Willy-nilly always goes together - you don't get nilly without willy. So it has a hyphen.
  • Gilt-edged also goes together, it is a type of saying - together the phrase means 'of the highest quality, ie it becomes one meaning. A silver sword is just a description.
  • edited March 2016
    And then we come onto those words that used to be hyphenated but have become joined up such as co-operative. It seems to be an either is acceptable use.

    But honestly cooperative just doesn't read as well as co-operative.
  • French doesn't hyphenate Coopérative. Eng and Fr derive from Latin cooperari, which has no hyphen. OED gives it as both hyphenated and not, so use whichever you prefer.

    OED: in modern English usage the use is decreasing, esp. in compound nouns like website and air raid. Still often used when a compound expression precedes a noun (twenty-odd people - for obvious reasons - or first-rate musicians, or in TN's case, newly-empty space) but there is a growing tend to omit them.

    So there you have it - neither is wrong.
  • Yep, always follow what the big book says.

    Take care with those dashes – those used to finish dialogue invariably corrupt the closing speech marks, turning them:

    ‘You mean, if I were to—‘

    ‘You mean, if I were to—’

    Also, use them sparingly. Em dashes look particularly odd on e-readers. If a reader notices something like that, it’s because of the oddness – not because they like ’em.

  • New query - comma before 'and' in a list? I was always taught not to put a comma, like this: apples, oranges, bananas and pears.

    But I'm seeing commas before 'and' a lot recently, like this: apples, oranges, bananas, and pears.
  • Oh, and punctuation inside brackets. Again, I'm seeing it both ways, so am wondering if it's just stylistic.

    ...state of humility and humbleness (prostrating.)
    ...state of humility and humbleness (prostrating).
  • If you have an entire sentence (not part of another sentence) in a bracket, you put the full stop in the bracket. Otherwise the brackets from part of the sentence and the full stop goes outside. Wherever you saw that, they are wrong.

    You can use an Oxford comma (as it is known), but only if it is needed for clarity - ie.

    I was dancing with the idiots, my mother and father.

    I was dancing with the idiots, my mother, and father.

    In the first sentence I have made my mother and father idiots. In the second it is clear i was dancing with some idiots and also my mother and father.

  • That makes sense. Thank you Liz :)
  • For 'tucked-away place', would you use a hyphen?
  • I would, but I am not a hyphen wizard. My view is that 'tucked-away' becomes a compound word. I'm sure BB will offer the definitive word.
  • From my dictionary:

    Be tucked away: located in an inconspicuous place.
  • Yes, but I wanted it to be more intimate than just 'tucked away'.
  • Hidden. Secret.
  • A tucked away place. A tucked-away place. I'd hyphenate.
  • The body was cuddling the earth under the patio.
  • Thank you, Mrs Bear. When you say something is OK, I feel reassured.

    No dead bodies in this one (at this point in the story). Later on, maybe... 8-X
  • Just don't go OTT with your hyphens. I seem to spend a lot of time plucking 'em out.
  • But your judgement-call is surely education-based to be able to instantly-decipher the over-use of the demon-hyphen? :D
  • And apostrophe's.
  • Just don't go OTT with your hyphens. I seem to spend a lot of time plucking 'em out.
    Yes, ma'am.
  • Is it pushbike, push-bike, or push bike?
  • edited February 2017
    Or, Oxford says: 'pushbike'. One word.
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