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Is it possible to use incomplete sentences after semi-colons when you are writing partial clauses that are continuations of a previous clause that you don't want to repeat? Basically the clauses are a kind of list.

For example:

I feel grateful that, for whatever reason, being near Sean makes me forget about my self-absorbed misery for a brief second; makes me forget the images of John and Riley I saw; forget the messages I found on John's phone; forget about the divorce that is looming.

Or how about something like this:

She’s a woman incapable of having a single solitary thought for another human being; a woman so brazen that I’ve seen her flirt with men right in front of their wives; the type of woman for whom advancement is the only thing that matters.

Any advice would be appreciated!

  • Commas are sufficient for your examples. Semicolons come in handy if the list items themselves need commas. – deadrat Aug 20 '16 at 19:19
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    I'd say that commas are insufficient here to replace your semicolons (as there are two semicolons, and the comma is forced to do too much – especially in the first example). I'd use dashes or full stops in your second example (with sentence fragments, but I'm brave). For the first: 'I feel grateful that, for whatever reason, being near Sean makes me forget about my self-absorbed misery for a brief second. Makes me forget the images of John and Riley I saw, forget the messages I found on John's phone –/... forget about the divorce that is looming.' The semicolons are messy at best. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 20 '16 at 20:34
  • Thanks. I don't think using commas works for me. I may try and be "brave" enough to use sentence fragments instead. I recently read a novel with a section that went something like this: "I have often wished that I had born into a different family; that I had never studied art at college; that my voice weren't so high-pitched; and that I hadn't got married to the first woman I dated." I haven't often seen that type of structure in novels, but I wondered if it was common? – MoniqueH Aug 21 '16 at 0:05
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In my view semicolons have two uses, the obvious and here irrelevant one of which is to make lists without worrying about commas and “ands”. “Here is a list of colours: red; orange; yellow; green” instead of “Here is a list of colours: red, orange, yellow and green.” The other is precisely to link incomplete sentences when writing partial clauses that are continuations you don't want to repeat, in what might broadly be termed a kind of list. In my view it would be highly undesirable to replace the semi-colons in forgetting-via-Sean, and simply wrong to switch them all to commas, instead of using “and” for the last one. I don’t think your brazen woman really minds either way, though using commas would give it less force.

  • Thanks Robbie. I think I may go with the semi-colons after all. – MoniqueH Aug 30 '16 at 1:18
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    Quelle bon choice! If anyone really thinks that your "I feel grateful…" passage is not a text-book example of how semicolons can and should be used, let him speak now or forever hold his peace! – Robbie Goodwin Sep 1 '16 at 2:03

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