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Could you please help me correct this sentence? Thank you very much.

"The first thing I do in the morning after getting up is brush my teeth and wash my face, but the first thing he does is go on to sleep."

Is this sentence logical?If I want to emphasize the different habits of two people (I vs. he), what can I do to make the sentence clearer?

Also, can I replace the second verb with a comma?

"The first thing I do in the morning after getting up is brush my teeth and wash my face; the first thing he does, go to sleep."

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What’s a “gapping” comma? –  tchrist Mar 21 '13 at 10:10
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@tchrist See this. –  Chris Mar 21 '13 at 10:20
    
@tchrist: Ignore Trask's labels. They're useful only when they don't confuse, and they do confuse. His examples are better than his terminology. Barrie England is a fan of Trask's. I'm not, but I admire his effort and send people to his website for some good examples of how to punctuate. I do warn them, though, to ignore the labels. –  user21497 Mar 21 '13 at 10:33
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@BillFranke Yah ok. I see so many people coming here with really weird terms for things as though it makes some difference, and I doubt that it does. –  tchrist Mar 21 '13 at 10:35
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2 Answers 2

I didn't want to answer this question, but I feel that I have to because I think you've been given a couple of misleading and false responses.

Your sentence should be:

"The first thing I do in the morning after getting up is brush my teeth and wash my face, but the first thing he does is go back to sleep."

If you want to use a semicolon, go ahead:

"The first thing I do in the morning after getting up is brush my teeth and wash my face; the first thing he does is go back to sleep."

The second sentence is grammatical and perfectly acceptable. It's not what I'd call normal idiomatic English only because most native speakers don't use semicolons unless they absolutely have to. I don't blame them for that, but I use them all the time; however, I'm a technical editor, so my daily writing context is almost always different from the one that your sentence suggests yours probably is.

There are a host of websites with "rules" about using semicolons. The rules they give aren't all the same. These two, however, are relevant to your question, and they're consistent and believable: [1] Use a semicolon to [connect closely related ideas][1], and [2] "A semicolon is most commonly used to link (in a single sentence) two independent clauses that are closely related in thought." This link gives an example sentence that parallels yours: "Some people write with a word processor; others write with a pen or pencil." If you wanted to replace the verb write with a comma, you could: "Some people write with a word processor; others, with a pen or pencil." They're both grammatical and structurally parallel.

Your final sentence, the one that includes "...the first thing he does, go to sleep.", is grammatically incorrect. It has to be "...the first thing he does is go back [NB: EDIT: Corrected tense mistake pointed out by Tim Lymington's comment. Sorry about that oversight.] to sleep." You can delete back if "he" works every night and sleeps during the day, however. But if you mean that he wakes up after a night's sleep and then returns to sleeping instead of getting out of bed, you should include back.

If you want to take Kurt Vonnegut's advice, Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you've been to college., no one will criticize your writing for it.

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I apologize for my misleading responses. I shall delete my answer. Again, I'm sorry, and thank you for correcting me. –  Chris Mar 21 '13 at 10:40
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@Abody: Please don't apologize to me. If you feel the need to apologize, it should be to the OP. I make mistakes too, as does everyone else here, & I've unwittingly given false & misleading answers over the past 10 months since I've been posting answers to questions. I empathize. I don't get angry or take this kind of stuff personally unless I'm unreasonably attacked, which sometimes happens. Using language often leads to misunderstandings. Don't despair. :-) –  user21497 Mar 21 '13 at 10:47
    
I think OPs sentence would convey the meaning better as "The first thing I do in the morning after waking up is get up, brush my teeth and wash my face; all he does is go back to sleep." –  mplungjan Mar 21 '13 at 11:14
    
@mplungjan: No argument. It's a matter of style for me. I like structural parallelism, so I prefer that style. Your sentence is briefer & more to the point. I won't argue about which is better: it's a matter of taste. They both work. –  user21497 Mar 21 '13 at 11:44
    
I literally do not understand your penultimate paragraph. The first thing I did this morning was (to) brush my teeth normal English; the first thing I did this morning was, I brushed my teeth not Standard English but understandable; the first thing I did was brushed my teeth grating at best. Elision doesn't change that. Could you expand your point for us Bears of Little Brain? –  TimLymington Mar 21 '13 at 13:14
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Answering the second question:

"The first thing I do in the morning after getting up is brush my teeth and wash my face; the first thing he does is go back to sleep."

"The first thing I do in the morning after getting up is brush my teeth and wash my face; the first thing he does, go back to sleep."

The gapping comma construction (and such it is here*) is inadvisable because of the length of the intervening 'in the morning after getting up' and 'is brush my teeth and wash my face; the first thing he does'.

Trask's second example works nicely:

Italy is famous for her composers and musicians, France , for her chefs and philosophers, and Poland , for her mathematicians and logicians. [gapping commas bolded]

*Nottingham Trent University also endorses Trask's classification of commas.

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I will still contend that it is unlikely that the person who went back to sleep got up in the first place :) –  mplungjan Mar 21 '13 at 15:38
    
He's narcoleptic. –  Edwin Ashworth Mar 22 '13 at 0:06
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