Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Possible Duplicate:
Is it proper usage to replace a comma in a list with a semi-colon in this situation (see details)?

Transglobal historians are muscling up with their magnum opuses; publishers are bellowing for more books; more TV tie-ins; more exhibitions.

From The Sunday Times: A picture of what was lost, 11 November 2012

share|improve this question

marked as duplicate by Matt Эллен, StoneyB, tchrist, MετάEd, Barrie England Nov 11 '12 at 16:15

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

    
Joining multiple independent clauses into a sentence. There is usually an implied theme that applies to all the clauses. –  Kris Nov 11 '12 at 14:14
    
Hmm it doesn't look like a mere list. –  Kris Nov 11 '12 at 14:15

2 Answers 2

up vote 1 down vote accepted

From here you can see that semi-colons officially have one only use. They join two independent clauses of equal weight, when neither a full-stop nor a colon will work, and no suitable connecting word is available.

Is this true of the example sentence? On the face of it the first semi-colon could maybe be replaced by a full-stop, and the following two possibly by commas, but I am not the type to leap to the conclusion that the writer is incompetent and doesn't know his business so I found the full paragraph:

We are approaching the centenary of the Great War, and it will be the greatest centenary the world has ever seen. Transglobal historians are muscling up with their magnum opuses; publishers are bellowing for more books; more TV tie-ins; more exhibitions. There will be long lines of men marching through market town squares to the sound of trumpets and Wilfred Owen, and nothing will ever be the same again.

Now we can see that it is a list of things that will make it the greatest centenary the world has ever seen, and the listing continues into the following sentence, which predicts activities that will contribute to the centenary. The structure is:

sentence 1) the situation - upcoming celebration.

sentence 2) list of things making it a great celebration - magnum opuses, more books, more TV, more exhibitions.

sentence 3) list of predicted activities - marching, trumpets, Wilfred Owen.

Within this structure, neither a full stop nor a colon will work as the items need to be kept together and separate from adjacent information, and joining words would be clumsy in the extreme. In contrast, the writers choice of semi-colons works well. He has made the list cohesive, made is distinct from the preceding and following sentences, and at the same time, by having clauses of decreasing length, mirrored the real-life rush to the event.

It is worth remembering that good writing should not be standard idiomatic English - that is for speakers - and this sentence is a good example of why.

share|improve this answer
    
Why does the reference you select have 'official' authority? And even that reference (which admittedly contains a lot of good material) claims that there is only one major use. I'm sure I've seen the super-comma usage advocated far more strongly in some style guide. –  Edwin Ashworth Nov 11 '12 at 15:53
    
Semi-colons have multiple uses: to link two closely related independent clauses; to join two independent clauses, when they are connected with a conjunction or conjunctive phrase; and to separate items in a list, when those items contain commas (such as in this sentence). «Source». That said, I agree w/ RF's decision to examine the greater context, as opposed to passing judgement on a extracted single sentence. What looks clunkily overused in the latter seems more carefully wielded in the former. –  J.R. Nov 14 '12 at 20:50

I think it's wrong and that it should be:

Transglobal historians are muscling up with their magnum opuses; publishers are bellowing for more books, more TV tie-ins, (and) more exhibitions.

or

Transglobal historians are muscling up with their magnum opuses, and publishers are bellowing for more books, more TV tie-ins, (and) more exhibitions.

When used with lists, some of the items in the list should have commas. As Kris says, this is no mere list. It contains only two items (so it's not a list, which must, I believe, contain at least three items), and because the second item is the one with the commas, there's no need for a semicolon to separate it from the first: a simple commas and the conjunction "and" work better, IMHO.

However, both alternatives here are grammatical and standard idiomatic English. The example you gave is not.

share|improve this answer
    
Grump: it ought to be magna opera. ;} –  StoneyB Nov 11 '12 at 14:39

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.