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Often in spoken English, I see one sentence or phrase "set up" another much like an interjection. For example:

I forgot to ask. Did you find that book I told you about?

How do you generally punctuate this? I've seen a comma used for this, but I that's only correct if it can be argued that I forgot to ask is a proper interjection (can it be?).

Should I use a colon? Semi-colon? Does it matter?

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Related: english.stackexchange.com/questions/4590/… – Marthaª Nov 9 '10 at 18:46
up vote 8 down vote accepted

You can certainly use a colon.

I forgot to ask: did you find that book I told you about?

Technically, using a semi-colon would not be grammatically incorrect (both parts being complete sentences), but it wouldn't really fit the situation.

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You could punctuate this in a few ways, in decreasing levels of formality

With a colon (:)

I forgot to ask: did you find that book I told you about?

With a dash (–)

I forgot to ask—did you find that book I told you about?

With an ellipsis (…)

I forgot to ask…did you find that book I told you about?

The colon is the most formal, the ellipsis quite informal. I personally would use a dash. The ellipsis here is used to indicate a pause or an unfinished thought, which some purists might object to (claiming that an ellipsis can only be used to indicate something which has been left out).

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I would use a comma:

I forgot to ask, 'Did you find that book I told you about?' (comma, direct speech)

One could rewrite it using indirect speech as well:

I forgot to ask whether you found that book I told you about (indirect speech)

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