• Their style favors texture and timbre over more familiar and comforting musical elements; there is no beat, melody, or rhythm – only techno-cacophony.

Can I switch the dash for a colon, like this?

  • Their style favors texture and timbre over more familiar and comforting musical elements; there is no beat, melody, or rhythm: only techno-cacophony.
  • 1
    There's probably no prescription against this (though you may find a very strong recommendation not to have both a semicolon and a colon in running text in the same sentence). The dash is more modern-looking, and one feels matches the sentence fragment better. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 26 at 19:36
  • I'd take out the semicolon: Their style favors texture and timbre over more familiar and comforting musical elements: there is no beat, melody, or rhythm—only techno-cacophony. Even when we use the semi just right, our readers often are unsure what it means (maybe it's old-fashioned; maybe rare). Just say no. One semi per page is a lot for me. – Yosef Baskin Jan 26 at 20:46
  • Both sentences are the same words in the same order. Therefore if one is grammatical, so is the other because they are grammatically identical. What is it that you really want to know? You have asked nothing about their grammar. Had you meant to? – tchrist Jan 26 at 21:47
  • I've reopened this, but you need to understand that punctuation choice is a style matter, not a “correctness” one. Correct in that context can never mean more than "agrees with the author of this style guide". However, you have shown no research, so your question is likely to be closed for that reason. – tchrist Jan 27 at 0:44
  • It equals saying "...there is no beat, melody, or rhythm, but there is only techno-cacophony." Thus, it could be a) ...there is no beat, melody, but only techno-cacophony. b) ...there is no beat, melody, or rhythm; only techno-cacophony. – Ram Pillai Jan 27 at 12:41

Yes, you can (though it's probably better with the dash, as was already mentioned in the comments).


Let us simplify your original sentence to

[A] There is no beat, melody, or rhythm – only techno-cacophony.

The part after the dash, only techno-cacophony, is a supplement. Supplements are parts of a sentence that aren't syntactically integrated to the rest of the sentence. Instead, they are only semantically related to another part of the sentence, the so-called anchor. (For an extended discussion of supplements and anchors, see e.g. this answer.)

On the face of it, the supplement in [A] is a noun phrase (NP), whose head is the noun techno-cacophony, and the adverb only is a peripheral modifier (CGEL, p. 436). However, from the semantics of [A] it is evident that the the anchor is the whole initial main clause, There is no beat, melody, or rhythm. But according to CGEL, supplements in the form of NPs have other NPs as anchors (pp. 1356-1358). Therefore, it seems reasonable to postulate that only techno-cacophony is in fact an ellipsis, and that the full, non-ellipted sentence reads

[B] There is no beat, melody, or rhythm – there is only techno-cacophony.

The part after the dash in [B], there is only techno-cacophony, is now a supplement in the form of a main clause, and such supplements indeed regularly have other main clauses as anchors (CGEL, p. 1359). Here is what CGEL says about such cases:

Supplement main clauses in final position (especially those without any indicator [e.g. namely, that is, etc.]) are not clearly syntactically distinguishable from separate sentences. In speech, one can use intonation to link a clause to what precedes as supplement to anchor, and in writing punctuation serves to mark more explicitly whether a main clause is being presented as a supplement to what precedes or as a separate orthographic sentence.

Supplements of this type are commonly preceded by either a dash or a colon. CGEL gives the following example that uses a colon:

I raised a more serious objection: it's against the law.

Here are some examples of similar constructions:

Dialogue between the two presidents remains essential: only that can create the political space for civilian and military officials in both nations to engage with one another in discussions that could prevent catastrophe.

From Ernest J. Moniz and Sam Nunn, 'The Return of Doomsday: The New Nuclear Arms Race-and How Washington and Moscow Can Stop It', Foreign Affairs, September/October 2019

We don't publish any letters: we only accept commissioned articles.

From CGEL, p. 383

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