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PARTS & SECTIONS

Click on any  part or section below:

Part I. Basics/Process

  A. Chapters 1-6: Start

  B. Ch. 7-13: Organize

  C. Ch. 14-20: Revise/Edit

Part II. College Writing

   D. Ch. 21-23: What Is It?

   E. Ch. 24-30: Write on Rdgs.

   F. Ch.31-35: Arguments

  G. Ch. 36-42: Research

  H. Ch. 43-48: Literature

   I.  Ch. 49-58: Majors & Work

Part III. Grammar 

   www.OnlineGrammar.org
 
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 Study Questions
     

 

                                          

Chapter 16: PEACOCK PUNCTUATION

                 
How can you cure fragments and comma splices?
What is an easy way to use colons and semicolons?

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Introduction--Quick Review of Peacock Sentences

Unforgivable Fragment

Dreaded Comma Splice

Mysterious Semicolon (";")

Common Colon (":")

Conclusion: Three Peacock Guidelines to Remember

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Before reading this chapter, please read the earlier chapter in this section on peacocks, "Peacock Sentences."  It discusses how the English sentence is like a peacock: every sentence in English has a head and body, and most have additional modifiers, much like a peacock has tail feathers. 

This chapter describes the two most common, highly-noticeable grammar and punctuation errors in college and professional English: the unforgivable fragment and the dreaded comma splice.

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Introduction--Quick Review of Peacock Sentences

First, remember that the errors and problems in this web page are all completely acceptable in first rough-draft writing.  In rough-draft writing, first draft, just for yourself, anything goes--listing, drawing, mapping, writing without capitals or periods, et al.  Second, in your formal writing, there are some things that are deadly at the college level; we'll get to those in a minute.  Third, to understand this chapter properly, you have to know about peacock sentences.  If you haven't read the chapter before this, then a "peacock sentence" is a complete sentence in the English language: one with a head (the subject) and a verb (the body), and likely (though not always) some additional modifying words (the tail feathers):


 
  
The peacock
 (head )

 

 
    
is walking
 
(body )

           
  

around the yard,
trailing its feathers
  
(tail
 and calling to us.
 feathers)

     

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Unforgivable Fragment

There are some unforgivable grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors at the college level, which you don't dare let teachers, colleagues, or supervisors see.  These are errors everyone with a college education can pick out: obvious stuff like not capitalizing the beginnings of sentences, skipping periods, obvious misspellings easily corrected if the person had just proofread his/her work.  They result in disrespect, poorer grades, lower salaries, and less advancement.  The great majority of us understand that we need to proofread carefully enough to get rid of common errors.

However, what are some common errors at the college level of education?  The most common major grammar error, one that everyone with a college education knows to avoid, is perhaps the unforgivable fragment.  A fragment is an incomplete sentence.  It is missing a subject, a verb, or both.  In peacock language, a fragment looks like these three sets of words and phrases that aren't complete sentences at all.  Here is an example (shown in strikethrough red to indicate it is wrong):

John.  Talked it over.  While waiting for you to arrive. 

In peacock language, the first is just a head.  The second is just a verb phrase.  And the third is modifiers or tail feathers.

Whether your intent is to create emphasis, a pause or two, or a casual tone, in formal professional and academic English, you just can't do this.  It looks bad and sounds very choppy, and it can be very confusing. 

In peacock language, here is what you are doing:

John.  (head or feathers? )

 

.

Talked it over.  (body )

 

.

Waiting for you to arrive.  (body )

 

.

This kind of writing certainly is forgivable and even very acceptable in three situations: (a) in first-draft writing for your eyes only; (b) in highly informal, diary-like writing for yourself or very close friends; and (c) sometimes in creative writing, especially when creating dialogue.  But in formal writing for college or the professions, using it regularly can be the kiss of death for your grades and your career. 

There usually are two ways to solve--or revise--a fragment: (1) turn it into a complete sentence, or (2) add it to a sentence before or after it.  For example, the three fragments in the chart above can be revised in either of these ways:

Fix Fragments by Making One Complete Peacock

 
John,
 (head feather )

we (head )

 
    
talked it over
(body )

           
  

 

 

while waiting for you to
arrive.
   (tail feathers )

OR

Fix Fragments by Making Two or More Complete Peacocks

John, here is some news.

  

  

 

.

 

We talked it over.

  

  

 

.

 

We just couldn't wait for you.

  

  

 

.

 

Either method--or even a mix of the two--would solve the problem sufficiently.  Sometimes you may have to add words.  But it is important to always form complete sentences.  Why is this so?  It is because complete sentences are much easier for readers to follow: they are more predictable and thus, for readers, create a flow of thinking that is more automatic and understandable. 

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Dreaded Comma Splice

Most people know how to avoid the unforgivable fragment, above, by the time they are sophomores in college.  However, the dreaded comma splice is a much greater problem--and therefore a much more noticeable one to college graduates, especially teachers and supervisors.

What is a comma splice?  It is two complete sentences "spliced" together by just a comma.  To explain it, let's first start with peacocks and the concept of the "fused sentence."

In the land of peacock sentences, there is a rule.  Peacocks must remain chaste.  It is forbidden for two peacocks to be close to each other (which might explain their sad, wailing calls) without something between them.  They are not at all allowed to wander around like this:

Illegal Fused-Sentence Peacocks

 

 

.

If you were writing sentences this way, they would be called "fused sentences" or a "sentence fuse" because they fuse two complete sentences into one long, illegal string of words.  Three examples are as follows, all three of which are "illegal" fused sentences:

Examples of Illegal "Fused Sentence" Peacocks

I love granola it's great!  (illegal)

You should visit New York it's amazing.  (illegal)

West Africa had terrible civil wars many people were killed.  (illegal)
    

The correct version of each of these would be as follows:

Examples of Legal Non-fused Sentence Peacocks

I love granola.  It's great!  (legal)

You should visit New York.  It's amazing.  (legal)

West Africa had terrible civil wars.  Many people were killed.  (legal)
   

In addition, in peacock land, peacocks can't even be divided by just a plain comma.  The comma is not strong enough.  Dividing peacocks by just a comma is called a "comma splice."  Here are two peacocks in a comma splice:

Illegal Comma Splice Peacocks

 

   

  

,

 

 

 

.

  
Three examples of the dreaded comma splice are as follows:

Examples of Illegal "Comma Splice" Peacocks

I love granola, it's great!  (illegal)

You should visit New York, it's amazing.  (illegal)

West Africa had terrible civil wars, many people were killed.  (illegal)

  
To put it very plainly and simply, peacocks must always be divided by a barrier that is stronger than just a comma.  Here are the four most common barriers that in formal English are legal between peacocks:

Legal Peacocks--Four Methods of Punctuation

.

 

,_and

 

;

 

;_therefore,

 

 

 

.

  
Using the first sentence above as an example, here's how these four dividing barriers would look:

Examples of Four Legal Cures for "Comma Splice" Peacocks

(a) I love granola.  It's great.

(b) I love granola, and  it's great.

(c) I love granola;  it's great.

(d) I love granola; therefore, it's great.

In this situation, you also could use a colon (" : "):

I love granola:  it's great.

Obviously, the most common solution to dividing peacocks is the period (as in "a" above): for example,

You should visit New York.  It's amazing.
     

The second most common solution (as in "b" above) is to use a conjunction such as "and," "or," "but," "for," and others: for example,

You should visit New York, for it's amazing.
              

Another easy solution is to add a semicolon (" ; ") between them (as in "c" above).  However, if you use a semicolon, always be sure that you have two complete peacocks--one on the left side and one on the right side of the semicolon: for example,

You should visit New York; it's amazing.
           

A fourth, less common but helpful method is to use what is called a "conjunctive adverb" (as in "d" above): for example,

New York is amazing; consequently, you should visit it.
           

This fourth method, the conjunctive adverb, often helps make richer, longer sentences.  If you know how to use it, you are not only using transition devices (which is what conjunctive adverbs are); you also sometimes are creating an easier flow and a richer style of writing--both of which are good qualities to gain in scholarly or highly professional writing.  There are dozens of conjunctive adverbs.  However, the most common ones can be summed up (as described in the chapter in this section called "Punctuation Review") by the acronym "Fact Hit."  Note that in each of these "Fact Hit" uses, there are three parts: a semicolon, the conjunctive adverb itself, and a comma.  (The only exception is the word "thus" because it is a one-syllable word, and it can be used with or without a comma.)  Here are the "Fact Hit" conjunctive adverbs:

"Fact Hit" Conjunctive Adverbs

Conjunctive
Adverb

Example

F

; furthermore,

We believe in life; furthermore, we encourage living to the fullest.

A

; as a result,

Life is short; as a result, humans learn too little.

C

; consequently,

I acted poorly; consequently, I paid a price.

T

; therefore,

I hurt a friend; therefore, I hurt myself as well.

H

; however,

Sometimes I love life; however, it can be hard, too.

I

; in turn,

I try to do good; in turn, I hope it is done to me.

T

; thus

Pleasure passes; thus we need to be ethical.

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Mysterious Semicolon (";")

You should avoid using the semicolon (";") unless you know how to use it.  On the other hand, it can be a very helpful punctuation mark, and using it correctly has the advantage of showing that you know your way around punctuation. 

SEMICOLON AS A "SOFT PERIOD":

The semicolon is particularly useful if you have a tendency to use comma splices.  A comma splice, again, is an illegal gluing together of two separate sentences into one with just a comma.  For example, here is an illegal comma splice:

"We went to town, we had a good time."
      

One way to test for whether you have committed a comma splice, as just above, is to see if you can replace the comma with a period and have two complete sentences.  In this case, the test works.  A period creates two complete sentences:

"We went to town. We had a good time."
  

But what if you don't like using just a period--what if you don't like creating two short, choppy sentences like this? 

One of the useful cures for this illegal sentence is to use a semicolon:

"We went to town; we had a good time."
      

In this way, the semicolon acts as a sort of "soft period"--a much stronger divider than a normal comma, but a softer divider than a simple period because it allows the two sentences to be more closely united or to flow together more.  You can write all kinds of sentences with semicolons dividing them to show more flow between the two sentences.  In most cases, you should only do this with two sentences at a time, using one semicolon at a time.

Are you using a semicolon in this way correctly?  The way to test for it is to replace it with a period.  If you then have two complete, independent sentences--one on each side of it--then you are using the semicolon correctly.

SEMICOLONS AS "SUPER COMMAS":

Another way to use the semicolon is rare but very helpful when needed.  It occurs when you have a series of series.

What is a "series of series"?  First, think of just one simple series.  Everyone knows that a series of items needs to be divided by commas.  The two correct ways are as follows in these examples:

Today we had bananas, apples, peaches, and oranges.
Today we ate bananas, apples, peaches and oranges.

Each of these is correct--with or without the comma before the "and"--as long as you do it consistently in your entire paper. 

However, what if you have a "series of series"?  Here is a series of series done correctly with some helpful semicolons:

Today we had green salad, fruit salad, and potato salad; peas, carrots, lima beans, and spinach; bananas and peaches; chocolate pudding, lemon cake, and ice cream; and coffee.

 Why are the semicolons added?  They divide the smaller series from the larger ones. This is very useful in reading the sentence.  Why?  Here is how the sentence would look if the semicolons were commas, instead:

Today we had green salad, fruit salad, and potato salad, peas, carrots, lima beans, and spinach, bananas and peaches, chocolate pudding, lemon cake, and ice cream, and coffee.

The sentence with nothing but commas for dividers is harder to read.  For this reason, semicolons are used.  They become a sort of "super comma"--a stronger divider than just a regular comma. 

How can you tell whether you are using semicolons correctly in this way?  as long as you have a "series of series" with at least one of the series being three items long or longer, then you should divide the larger series from each other with semicolons.  It is fine is some of the small series have only one or two items in them, as above. 

And how do you know whether you are using the correct number of semicolons in a sentence?  If your purpose is to divide two complete sentences, then you should have only one semicolon.  If your purpose is to divide a series of series, thenyou should have two or more semicolons. 

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The Common Colon (":")

A colon (":") also should not be used in a sentence unless you know how to do so.  However, it, too, can be very useful. 

Many people get the colon (":") mixed up with the semicolon (";").  The two are very different, though.  They are used in very different ways.   

A colon is like an equals sign ("=").  Before the colon is a general statement. And after it is something that equals this general statement: details, or more specific information about your general statement. In this way, use of a colon follows this three-part pattern:

(a) a complete sentence of general information
(b) a colon
(c) a phrase or sentence of specific details

So, for example, these three sentences follow this pattern. All threeuse a colon correctly:

We ate many fruits today: we had peaches, lemons, apples, and limes.

We ate many fruits today: peaches, lemons, apples, and limes.

We ate many fruits today:

          peaches
          lemons
          apples
          limes

Notice that in the first example, there is a complete sentence on both sides of the colon; but in the second sentence, there is a complete sentence and then a list of items.  In the third sentence, the list of items is placed in an indented column (usually with no puntuation after each item).  All three of these methods are correct.

In fact, a colon typically is used as a lead-in punctuation mark for an indented quotation, picture, or chart used from a research source.  Then, depending on the system of documentation and citation you are using, it may be used like this:

According to Ashley Shankland in WritingforCollege.org, Ch. 57:

In recent years, literature and essays have been published on the Dead Sea Scrolls because information on this great archeological find now is available. For years the contents of and history surrounding these ancient relics were kept under cover. However, now that the information about the scrolls has been brought to the public life and laypeople can obtain works about them, most people are no longer interested in this information. Interest has been quelled by the long delays in the availability of information and by the lack of works that the average person can enjoy reading.

You would have a lead-in phrase as in the above ("According to...Shankland...") whether you were using her words, her picture, or her chart or other graphics. You also would be correct after "Ch. 57" to use the normal punctuation that would be used if there were no indentation: in this case, a comma would be correct after "Ch. 57."  However, common usage now assumes that a colon is the most acceptable punctuation after a lead-in phrase and before an indented quotation, picture, chart, or other graphic.

Are you using the colon correctly?  Generally, in sentences, you can test your colon by checking whether you have a complete sentence before it, and more detailed information (with an incomplete or complete sentence) after it.  This would be true with a colon followed by a short list, too.  On the other hand, a lead-in phrase followed by an indented quotation, picture, or other graphic materials is the exception to this rule: with a lead-in phrase and such major indented material after it, the lead-in phrase does not have to be a complete sentence.

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Conclusion--Peacock, Semicolon, & Colon Guidelines to Remember

As you can see, peacock punctuation is a useful visual reminder of how and why sentences work with each other.  If you just remember these three peacock facts, you will have control of most of your sentences:

  1. When writing sentence, start with the head of the peacock fairly quickly.

  2. Each sentence is its own peacock, and peacocks usually are separated by periods.

  3. When they are together in the same sentence, keep them separated in some way.

And when it comes to semicolons and colons, follow these guidelines:

  1. Use one semicolon to divide two sentences when you want them closer to each other than with just a period.

  2. Use two or more semicolons when you need to divide smaller series from each other in one sentence.

  3. Use a colon by starting with a complete, general sentence, then a colon, and then specific details or items in a phrase, list, or sentence.

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C. Revise/Edit
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Click on any chapter below:

Chapters:

14. What Is "Revising"?

15. Peacock Sentences

16. Peacock Punctuation

17. Punctuation Review

18. 5 Special Methods

19. Typing/Printing

20Revision Checklist

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Additional:

Activities
                         

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 Related Links in
OnlineGrammar.org:

  5. Choosing Words

  6. Making Sentences

  8. General Editing

  9. Spelling

10. Punctuation

11. Grammar Guides

13. Help for ESL/NNS

15. Writing Books & Tutors

19. Visual/Other Design                

 

Updated 1 Aug. 2013

  

   

 

WritingforCollege.org also is at CollegeWriting.info and WforC.org

Natural URL: www.tc.umn.edu/~jewel001/CollegeWriting/home.htm
Previous editions: Writing for School & Work, 1984-1998; CollegeWriting.info, 1998-2012
6th Edition: 8-1-12, rev. 8-1-13.  Text, design, and photos copyright 2002-12 by R. Jewell or as noted
Permission is hereby granted for nonprofit educational copying and use without a written request.
Images courtesy of Barry's Clip Art, Clip Art Warehouse, The Clip Art Universe, Clipart Collection, MS Clip Art Gallery and Design Gallery Live, School Discovery, and Web Clip Art
Click here to contact the author: Richard Jewell.  Questions and suggestions are welcome.

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The views and opinions expressed in this page are strictly those of the page author.
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or approved by the University of Minnesota.