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Are there guidelines for using semi-colons in any of these kinds of circumstances (where a sentence fragment links with a question)? Please note that the words cannot be changed and dashes are prohibited as I am transcribing a conversation.

  1. I was trying to leave; asking them to let me go.

  2. She kept texting me; "What's up," "Want to go for a walk in the park?"

  3. How did you feel about that; not having to go to work?

  4. So why did you say what you did; "No," and later "I don't know"?

  5. So about that cake; you made it yourself?

  6. Talk about that for a moment; your tardiness, that is.

  7. You bought icing; chocolate, right?

  8. Is that something you regularly do; buy chocolate icing?

  • Only for #7. For the rest, colon or comma. – Brian Donovan Jun 30 '14 at 15:03
  • … and I would suggest “You bought icing. Chocolate, right?” or “You bought icing? Chocolate, right?” for #7. – Scott Jun 30 '14 at 21:49
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No, none of those semicolons work. A semicolon is used to connect two independent clauses (i.e. things that could be a complete sentence) that are related to each other. If you have only a sentence fragment on one side, a semicolon cannot be used; normally a comma or a dash would be called for there.

In several cases, you have a topic fragment and then a specifier fragment (e.g. "You bought icing; chocolate, right?"). In those cases, a colon is correct.

A colon can also be used to introduce a list.

(It's worth bearing in mind, given your note that these are transcribed conversations, that people do not always speak grammatically or in complete sentences. However, in all of these cases, I think you can come up with something reasonable.)

I would go with the following:

I was trying to leave, asking them to let me go.
She kept texting me: "What's up," "Want to go for a walk in the park?"
How did you feel about that, not having to go to work?
So why did you say what you did: "No," and later "I don't know"?
So about that cake—you made it yourself?
Talk about that for a moment—your tardiness, that is.
You bought icing: chocolate, right?
Is that something you regularly do, buy chocolate icing?

see This "The Oatmeal" cartoon for good information about how and when to use the semicolon.

  • Thank you. This is the author. Regarding 5 and 6, I'm not sure if the dash would be appropriate because they are generally used to indicate false starts when people are speaking. Any other suggestions? – James Jun 30 '14 at 15:17
  • Cake followed by colon; moment followed by full stop and capital letter. – Andrew Leach Jun 30 '14 at 15:18
  • False starts are one use of the dash, but not the only. However, if you don't like them, then "So about that cake: you made it yourself?" and "Talk about that for a moment... your tardiness, that is." would certainly also work. (Or, as Andrew suggests, "Talk about that for a moment. Your tardiness, that is." It may be a fragment, but it's perfectly clear and is certainly a very normal way to speak.) – Hellion Jun 30 '14 at 15:24
  • Thanks. One final question. Can a semicolon be used two link two complete sentences? For example: 1. I believe that's what I asked you before; you replied that you buy chocolate icing regularly, right? 2. And that's how you replied, right; you said you buy it regularly? – James Jun 30 '14 at 17:29
  • Yes, it can be used to link two complete sentences; I think your new #1 is fine. However, I would not use when the first sentence is a question, as in your new #2; you lose the "question-ness" of the first sentence that way. You're better off leaving them as 2 separate sentences: "And that's how you replied, right? You said you buy it regularly?" – Hellion Jun 30 '14 at 17:37
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Semicolons are great for lists that include some complex items, ones which might not be clear if commas were used. The items need not be clauses. Parallelism has to be respected amongst the items.

In other words, yes, you can use semicolons: put all eight corrected items in a list separated by the semicolons.

  • This question has nothing to do with lists. Please reread it. – Matt E. Эллен Jul 1 '14 at 7:51
  • Yes, Matt, please re-read it. He asks if he can use a semicolon in a following list. He can, as I explained. – Chard Jul 2 '14 at 5:50
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    No he does not. He asks if a semicolong can be used in the circumstances that he lists. That is not the same thing. – Matt E. Эллен Jul 2 '14 at 7:08

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