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I have consulted many punctuation guides, but I am still uncertain on which to use when writing instructions. For example:

Pick a player: she cannot participate in the first round.
or
Pick a player; she cannot participate in the first round.
or even
Pick a player, she cannot participate in the first round.

Personally I feel the version with the comma is weird, but I always hesitate between the other two options.

Edit: I would like this strategy to be versatile enough that I can use it with many different instructions, so I'm adding another example:

Pick a team: join it in two rounds.

In this case, I feel that punctuation is essential because something like

Pick a team and join it in two rounds.

makes the timing more ambiguous.

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    I'm not convinced either work as separators between an "imperative" instruction and a "parenthetical" statement like this. If they're both part of the same sentence, a comma followed by who cannot [more precisely, will not be able to] participate... Or enclose that "caveat" in brackets (explicitly "parenthetical"). OR - just use a full stop, and treat it as a second sentence. Commented Nov 6, 2019 at 17:23
  • @FumbleFingers I'm not so sure these added clauses are really parenthetical. See the new example I've added. In that one, it would make no sense to put in in brackets.
    – Alexbib
    Commented Nov 6, 2019 at 17:55
  • I wouldn't use punctuation in this sentence at all; I'd remove the punctuation and replace she with who: Pick a player who cannot participate in the first round. Commented Nov 10, 2019 at 5:48

1 Answer 1

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(a) Pick a player: she cannot participate in the first round.

(b) Pick a player; she cannot participate in the first round.

(c) Pick a player, she cannot participate in the first round

Option (c) uses a comma to join two main clauses (they could stand as complete sentences, the first imperative and the second declarative, and indeed a full stop is a valid alternative here). Though 'comma splices' as they are known are not always (as some would claim) verboten, this example is better discarded.

Option (a) uses the colon; the most general 'job description' of a colon is 'a stop used to introduce / lead on to something relevant to the preceding text'. So this certainly licenses the colon here. On the minus side is the fact that the colon is old-fashioned, and usually replaced by a dash. The nature of the dash (em-; en- ...) is not absloutely prescribed, though the em-dash is generally favoured (oops; favored) in the States.

Option (b) has the semicolon, whose principal usage is to separate semantically close main clauses. So here, it is fine, if a little academic-looking.

If you want a purely opinion-based recommendation:

(d) Pick a player (but note that she cannot participate in the first round).

This has all already been covered in various different threads (my excuse for not searching out multiple references), but I thought it might be useful to have a compare-and-contrast answer.

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