Colons, dashes, and broken sentences…

And so here is the next instalment of my series that looks to apply every single rule from Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style to my manuscript. Today, rules 6, 7 & 8.

6. Do not break sentences in two.

The Elements of Style, Strunk and WhiteWhat S&W are saying here is to be careful with where you put a full-stop. Ok, so it sounds elementary and their example below is really just a case of bad writing:

I met them on a Cunard liner many years ago. Coming home from Liverpool to New York.

See. Just bad writing.

They do, however, mention the clipping of a sentence if a certain emphasis is warranted:

Again and again he called out. No reply.

I do this quite a lot in my writing. S&W’s advise on the matter is that it’s fine in dialogue, but when used in narrative one must ensure the emphasis is warranted lest a clipped sentence seem merely a blunder in syntax or in punctuation.

I’ll do that. Thanks. 

7. Use a colon after an independent clause to introduce a list of particulars, an appositive, an amplification, or an illustrative quotation.

I’m really not so sure about this rule. I’ve looked over my manuscript and wherever I use it, it seems to be ok. I’ve put some examples below:

…all of whom had one collective purpose on their mind: the plundering of raw shreet.

The Gouvernemant de la Fraternité had more pressing concerns: a number of its other systems, some very rich systems, had started talking of autonomy.

…the man in command of Banshee was none other than Lord Montague Blaythwaite: the founder of the Northern Alliance and a man feared and revered in almost equal measure.

One of the more hazardous rungs on this ascent came in the form of the Ship’s Navigator Examination: the penultimate assessment for those hoping to advance to senior lieutenant.

I think all these are correct. but here’s one worth looking at:

“…she is now convincing many others that her system would be better under independent rule: her independent rule.”

I think I may have got rule number 7 wrong here, so I’ve fixed in order to go and break rule number 6 (Do not break sentences in two), but I think it works better.

“…she is now convincing many others that her system would be better under independent rule. Her independent rule.”

8. Use a dash to set off an abrupt break or interruption and to announce a long appositive or interruption.

First point here: I’ve now finally learned what an appositive is, so that’s good.

Second point: this is again something that I always do. I LOVE the dash. As S&W say, a dash is a mark of separation stronger than a comma, less formal than a colon, and more relaxed than parentheses. Who doesn’t love one of those?

No work to be undertaken on my manuscript concerning this rule, but here are couple of examples:

At this command, the Royal Navy examiner — also present on the quarterdeck — glanced up at Lee.

…threatening to edge these two great star nations closer to armed conflict, perhaps even to war — a war unheard of in the Federation’s five hundred years of relative peace.

So there we are; nowhere near as much work to do as on my previous post. The next post will cover rules 9, 10 & 11, and will see us entering some slightly more tricky subject matter before we leave the Elementary Rules of Usage and embark on the Elementary Principles of Composition. Joy.

Thanks for reading.


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