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Use of semi-colon - help please!

Discussion in 'English' started by HorribleWarning, Aug 22, 2008.

  1. I think the problem here is with the term 'connectives'. It is one of the bees in my bonnet, and has been since I say materials prepared for teachers by a local authority that had the whole thing completely base over apex. So I am going to try to help you out by explaining it. It may take more than one post. My machine crashes if I overload the message box.

    Point One

    The term connective does not appear in functional grammar at sentence level and it is not a word class either.

    I found this helpful account on one of the best websites available for students of grammar:


    There is explains that

    This unit is about one of the main aspects of <font color="#000000">coherence</font>, the quality of a text that 'hangs together' in terms of its meaning. In a coherent text it is clear how each part of the text is intended to relate to other parts. Other aspects of coherence which are discussed elsewhere are:

    • <font color="#000000">the reference links which are indicated by anaphoric devices such as pronouns; </font>
    • <font color="#000000">the consistent choice of tense and person.</font>
    Connectives are words such as but, if and therefore which indicate logical relations between two clauses or sentences. They belong to three different word classes:

    • coordinating conjunctions: but, and, or
    • subordinating conjunctions: if, because, until, etc.
    • adverbs: therefore, nevertheless, then, meanwhile, etc.
    Some people speak of 'cohesion' rather than 'coherence'. The idea is the same.

    End of Part One

    Just a reminder about word classes. The comments on these not being straightword are salutory and ought to be engraved on the brain of anyone intending to teach English and elsewhere on the anatomy of people who declaim simplistically that children can't write because they have not been taught 'grammar'......

    We recognise seven MAJOR word classes:

    <table class=" cellspacing="0" cellpadding="5">

    <td class="><font face="Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif">Verb</font></td>
    <td class="><font face="Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif">be, drive, grow, sing, think</font></td></tr>
    <td class="><font face="Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif">Noun</font></td>
    <td class="><font face="Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif">brother, car, David, house, London</font></td></tr>
    <td class="><font face="Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif">Determiner</font></td>
    <td class="><font face="Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif">a, an, my, some, the</font></td></tr>
    <td class="><font face="Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif">Adjective</font></td>
    <td class="><font face="Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif">big, foolish, happy, talented, tidy</font></td></tr>
    <td class="><font face="Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif">Adverb</font></td>
    <td class="><font face="Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif">happily, recently, soon, then, there</font></td></tr>
    <td class="><font face="Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif">Preposition</font></td>
    <td class="><font face="Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif">at, in, of, over, with</font></td></tr>
    <td class="><font face="Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif">Conjunction</font></td>
    <td class="><font face="Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif">and, because, but, if, or</font></td></tr></table>

    <font face="Arial,Helvetica"><a class=" name="gradience">[/URL]You may find that other grammars recognise different word classes from the ones listed here. They may also define the boundaries between the classes in different ways. In some grammars, for instance, pronouns are treated as a separate word class, whereas we treat them as a subclass of nouns. A difference like this should not cause confusion. Instead, it highlights an important principle in grammar, known as GRADIENCE. This refers to the fact that the boundaries between the word classes are not absolutely fixed. Many word classes share characteristics with others, and there is considerable overlap between some of the classes. In other words, the boundaries are "fuzzy", so different grammars draw them in different places.</font>



    A little sentence grammar:

    There are five types of sentence element:

    [*]predicative (aka complement)
    [*]adverbial </ol>
    In the sentence below every type of sentence element is present and is represented in this example by a single word.

    • They elected him president yesterday.
    They (=subject), elected (=verb), him (=object), president (=predicative), yesterday (=adverbial)

    Category 5, adverbials (not to be confused with the part of speech 'adverb' - different framework) includes what they call 'adverbial conjuncts'. These link the sentence to another, and could be removed without too much damage. In terms of this, the functional analysis of sentence elements, the word 'however' is an example of a conjunct.

    Paul was hungry. He did not, however, start eating straight away.

    You can see how the 'however' links the two sentences together.


  4. So the answer to the question 'Can one use a semi-colon with a connective?' is that it all depends upon what sort of connective you mean.

    No doubt I shall be corrected if I am wrong, but it seems to me that it is helpful to think of the term 'connective' as being 'text level speak', when what you need when thinking about punctuation is 'sentence level speak'.

    Even if one were (unhelpfully and incorrectly, but some people do it so it seems it may be helpful to mention this) conflating connectives and conjunctions it is perfectly acceptable to follow a semi-colon with a conjunction.


    Paul was hungry; because he had not eaten for three days, visions of food swam before his eyes.

    One reason that it is important not to confuse adverbs with conjunctions (both are 'connectives' in text level speak, as I hope I have shown) is that they go in different positions in the sentence.

    If I had 50 pence for every A Level candidate who blithely began one sentence after another with the adverb 'also' I should be rich. The adverb is most usefully positioned close to the verb.

    When I was just a horrible child, not a full blown horrible warning, we had exercises in which adverbs were incorrectly and misleadingly positioned and we had to write the sentences out correctly.

    Another increasingly common error is to put 'however' at the start of a sentence. What they call in some dictionaries 'careful writers' avoid doing this. This seems to be linked with the connective/adverbial/conjunction confusion thing.

    I suggest you have a look at the work of some writers who make frequent use of the semi-colon. It is not as fashionable as it once was, though we have to train pupils to use it irrespective of stylistic considerations so that they get top marks in NCTs (or so I have been told). Doris Lessing is one such author. You may find others on your shelves.

  5. Just to prove my point that the inclusion of the term 'connective' in National Literacy Strategy documents has led to bucketfuls of extremely bad teaching, glance quickly at this badly conceived and totally pointless exercise from a website called 'primaryresources.co.uk:
    <font face="Arial" size="5"><font face="Arial" size="5">
    The inanity of this is obvious, and when you consider that the list includes 'notwithstanding' and 'nevertheless' one wonders why the kids upon whom this is inflicted refrain from rioting.


  6. sleepy

    sleepy New commenter

  7. sleepy

    sleepy New commenter

  8. sleepy

    sleepy New commenter

    Thank you ? both of you, for your help.
  9. sleepy

    sleepy New commenter

    Sorry -

    No idea why that has been posted 3 times, or why it has squashed all my paragraphs into one.

    ickle - thought I'd typed at the start a 'thank you' for your reply - not sure where that went either! But thank you!
  10. Thank you for asking the question Sleepy: trying to work out answers helps me to focus.

    You are right about the 'However hard he tried' - a different use of 'However'. Qute right.

    I often see sentences that begin with the connective 'However', and probably do it myself sometimes, but I am sure that one is usually advised not to do it in those rather old fashioned books on style and usage.

    By the way, the sentence level analysis I used is slightly different from Crystal's, as you will have noticed. But I think the point about 'text-level-speak' and connectives is good and I really do believe there is some unhelpful confusion/conflation of 'connectives' and 'conjunctions'.

    Sometimes double posting happens if you hit the back button.

    I wish we could adjust font size and type on these boards.

  11. In respect of Canadian material...

    If we take it as read that different 'grammars' chop up language in other ways, then it is inevitable that when we dip into different books we will encounter different terms.

    So perhaps we need to aim for some sort of consistency? QCA publications on grammar used to cite David Crystal's Rediscover Grammar, now in its third edition. Interestingly, he includes a caution about diffent analyses in his introduction. More to the point, if you are looking for advice that might dovetail with whatever the 'officially sanctioned' analysis of the day is, his book might be a good starting place.

    People sometimes draw a distinction between descriptive grammars, which are intended simply to describe language and 'pedagogic' grammars, which are intended to support the teaching of language. I suppose that what you are looking for is some 'pedagogic' tool. I think that Crystal's book is written for teachers of English in England (among other readers) and so it might be a good place to look on those grounds.

    I think you are basically on the right lines with the simple explanation you offered at the outset and that with examples some of the brighter children might pick up on the semi-colon.

  12. <font face="Times New Roman" size="2"> This got under my skin.... sorry ....</font><font face="Times New Roman" size="2"> </font><b style="mso-bidi-font-weight:normal;"><font size="2"><font face="Times New Roman">On the semi-colon</font></font>[/b]<font face="Times New Roman" size="2"> </font><b style="mso-bidi-font-weight:normal;"><font size="2"><font face="Times New Roman">Leaving aside ?connectives? for a moment, the question remains: Can one use a semi-colon before a conjunction?</font></font>[/b]<b style="mso-bidi-font-weight:normal;"><font face="Times New Roman" size="2"> </font>[/b]

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    <font face="Times New Roman" size="2"> </font><font face="Times New Roman" size="2"> </font><font face="Times New Roman" size="2"> </font><font face="Times New Roman" size="2"> </font><font face="Times New Roman" size="2"> </font><font face="Times New Roman" size="2"> </font><font face="Times New Roman" size="2"> </font><i style="mso-bidi-font-style:normal;"><font face="Times New Roman" size="2"> </font>[/i]

  13. diamond_raindrops

    diamond_raindrops New commenter

    Oh dear, HorribleWarning. I may begin WW3 when I say...
    Really? Was ALL of that necessary? [​IMG]
    What I think:
    Well done for teaching semi-colons. Yes, your two suggestions for how it should be used were correct. Stick with that and if you can get some of your higher level pupils using it then fab.
    And I have just looked at the date this was posted... [​IMG] HAHA!
  14. However hard I try, I still can't get the A*'
    However, this was a mistake.
    I don't see why both those sentences are wrong. The difference is, the second needs a comma after it.

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