Is punctuation subject to rigorous convention?
Thread poster: Rosina Peixoto

Rosina Peixoto  Identity Verified
Uruguay
Local time: 20:14
English to Spanish
+ ...
Jun 21, 2008

What are the different implications in the following sentences?

1- I met Helen and Brian.

2- I met Helen, and Brian.

3- I met Helen- and Brian!

4- I met Helen. And Brian.

[Subject edited by staff or moderator 2008-06-22 09:55]


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The first sentence is correct. Jun 21, 2008

Sentences 2 and 4 are simply not correct.

Sentence 3 would probably mean something like. "I arranged to meet Helen for lunch and to my surprise, Brian was also there."

And Brian. (Sentence 4) is not a complete sentence, it lacks a verb.

And to answer your question on punctuation, yes there are strict rules with some local variations (British or US usage). There are also gray areas where even experts would disagree, but these would be found in complex sentences.

The Elements of Grammar by Margaret Shertzer is a good starting point for English grammar and punctuation, although there are also many good websites.

Sincerely, (with a comma)
Linda


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xxxLia Fail  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 01:14
Spanish to English
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None are really wrong (maybe 3, but is that dash set-up a typo?) Jun 21, 2008

Rosina Peixoto wrote:

What are the different implications in the following sentences?

1- I met Helen and Brian.

2- I met Helen, and Brian.

3- I met Helen- and Brian!

4- I met Helen. And Brian.


1 and 4 are correct. 2 and 3 are pretty odd.

2 is problematic becuase most people would consider a comma before AND in such a short sentence to be pointless and ugly. Note, however, that it is acceptable in some cases, e.g. the AMA style guide.

3 is plain wrong. This hyphen or en dash with a space on only one side is totally out of place. However, if it were an em dash with no spaces on either side it would be perfectly acceptable (....Helen—and...). Some people use en dashes with spaces on either side as an em dash (but not a space on just one side).

1 is perfect, although it's a plain straightforward statement, not marked in anyway. 4 is not wrong. It's quite possible in a literary text.


I met Helen—and Brian!
I met Helen. And Brian.

As for 3 and 4, and correcting 3 to an em dash, there is a loaded meaning. In 3, the punctuation and the exclamation mark indicate surprise. In 4, without an exclamation mark, one feels that Brian wasn't as interesting as Helen:-)

I met Helen—and Brian!
I met Helen. And Brian.

I avoided using the word "wrong" as there are many acceptable variations in punctuation.



[Edited at 2008-06-21 08:51]

[Edited at 2008-06-21 08:52]


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Jim Tucker  Identity Verified
United States
Hungarian to English
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All 4 of those sentences are absolutely possible Jun 21, 2008

...and therefore "correct." In any case, you might encounter any of them, depending on the stylistic flexibility of the authors you are dealing with.
The implications of each are just too numerous to deal with here.

[Edited at 2008-06-21 11:43]


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Ken Cox  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:14
German to English
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Agree with Lia Jun 21, 2008

And in general, there are practically no 'rigorous' conventions or rules for punctuation in English. There are basic conventions and numerous style guides, but for many rules (except basic things like punctuation at the end of a sentence in running text and capitalisation of the first word of a sentence in running text), you may find conflicting rules in different style guides. You will also find a lot of colloquial language that violates the rules of conventional English (and of any style guide you may consult), but which is regarded as acceptable by a certain population (set of users). In addition, relatively modern literary English -- especially English that attempts to reproduce dialectial or regional usage -- often creates its own rules and/or ignores conventional rules.

Personally, I would suggest that if you want to write English, you find a good set of conventional rules and stick to them. This way your English will always be understandable. 'Unconventional' English is often only properly understood by people who are familiar with the (usually unwritten) rules that its users follow, and mixing styles if you aren't fully familiar with the explicit and implicit rules is asking for trouble.

[Edited at 2008-06-21 12:46]


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Steven Capsuto  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 19:14
Spanish to English
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Depends on context Jun 21, 2008

1- I met Helen and Brian.

This is standard English punctuation


2- I met Helen, and Brian.

3- I met Helen- and Brian!

4- I met Helen. And Brian.

Since this is conversational, informal writing, there's a certain amount of flexibility allowed.

In terms of formal writing, options 2 to 4 are nonstandard unless you're writing dialog in a script for a movie, TV show or stage play. In those cases, the nonstandard punctuation can be used to indicate that the actor is meant to pause and treat the mention of Brian as an afterthought.

[Edited at 2008-06-21 15:46]


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Astrid Elke Witte  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 01:14
Member (2002)
German to English
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Only the first sentence is entirely correct Jun 21, 2008

lindaellen wrote:

Sentences 2 and 4 are simply not correct.

Sentence 3 would probably mean something like. "I arranged to meet Helen for lunch and to my surprise, Brian was also there."

And Brian. (Sentence 4) is not a complete sentence, it lacks a verb.

Sincerely, (with a comma)
Linda


This information is absolutely correct.

However, Sentence 3 also has a fault in it, in that there would have to be a space in front of the dash, as well as after it.

Astrid


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Jim Tucker  Identity Verified
United States
Hungarian to English
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4 is OK too Jun 21, 2008

lindaellen wrote:



And Brian. (Sentence 4) is not a complete sentence, it lacks a verb.

Linda


Not really true. It is a complete sentence with the verb being understood or supplied.


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The Misha
Local time: 19:14
Russian to English
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Agree with Jim Tucker Jun 22, 2008

English is a blessed language with no mandatory, inflexible punctuation rules - unlike, for example, my native Russian (but then again, more than just punctuation was, and still is, strictly regulated in that neck of the woods). Consequently, I can imagine using any of the options you listed except, of course, I'd put a space on both sides of the dash - or neither.

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Rosina Peixoto  Identity Verified
Uruguay
Local time: 20:14
English to Spanish
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TOPIC STARTER
A typo Jun 22, 2008

[quote]Lia Fail wrote:

3 is plain wrong. This hyphen or en dash with a space on only one side is totally out of place. However, if it were an em dash with no spaces on either side it would be perfectly acceptable (....Helen—and...). Some people use en dashes with spaces on either side as an em dash (but not a space on just one side).

I meant a dash, not a hyphen.

Many thanks for your comments.

Have a nice Sunday!


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Rosina Peixoto  Identity Verified
Uruguay
Local time: 20:14
English to Spanish
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TOPIC STARTER
Verbatim recoverability Jun 22, 2008

[quote]Astrid Elke Johnson wrote:

[quote]lindaellen wrote:



And Brian. (Sentence 4) is not a complete sentence, it lacks a verb.


It´s correct as the words and verbs missing can be recovered. It´s called "ellipsis".


I met Helen. And I met Brian (too).


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Sonja Biermann  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:14
English to German
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Agree with Ken Jun 22, 2008

I totally agree with Ken.

My preferred punctuation guide is "The Penguin Guide to Punctuation" which was one of the recommended guides at my university (written by an American who taught linguistics in England).

Grammatically correct would be, for instance, to join two complete sentences with one of the words and, or, but, yet or while with a comma. (Example: Britain has long been isolated in Europe, but now she is beginning to find allies.)

However, the question is "How many native speakers use a comma that way?" Probably not many (and I am not talking about linguists or translators). Their only secret might be that they weren't taught grammar at school, but they are native speakers.

Written Discourse Analysis, a potentially dry subject, offers more insight into how to use English punctuation correctly.

Good luck

[Bearbeitet am 2008-06-22 09:18]

[Bearbeitet am 2008-06-22 09:20]


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Andrew Steel  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 01:14
Spanish to English
Only option 1. is "correct" Jun 23, 2008

Rosina Peixoto wrote:

What are the different implications in the following sentences?

1- I met Helen and Brian.

2- I met Helen, and Brian.

3- I met Helen- and Brian!

4- I met Helen. And Brian.

[Subject edited by staff or moderator 2008-06-22 09:55]



Punctuation is subject to rigorous convention, but there is more than one convention.

The trick is to use the convention that the client prefers, or the one that is most appropriate to the context.

Strictly speaking, only option 1. is "correct".

The other 3 options (option 3 should be a dash, not a hyphen, and spacing should be equal, i.e. either one space either side of the dash, or none, but not a mixture of the two) are simply stylistic devices used to indicate a pause in human speech and suggest the speaker's intent when mentioning Brian. Obviously, punctuation's function is to clarify expression, but it should be subservient to syntax and not ride roughshod over the basic rules of grammar.

Options 2, 3 and 4 are not universally "wrong", as they are accepted in contexts in which the author is trying to replicate human speech faithfully, but, equally, they would not be "correct" in many circumstances.

The key here is to ask: Which sentence will always be considered correct, regardless of the context?



Andrew


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xxxMilena Bosco  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 01:14
English to Italian
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I agree with Jim Tucker. Jun 24, 2008

I think they are all possible. I am going to try to give a possible interpretation for each one of them...

1- "I met Helen and Brian" This is plain, the person speaking is just telling someone who he/she met.

2- "I met Helen, and Brian" This could mean that the person talking was expecting to meet Helen but met Brian as well.

3- "I met Helen- and Brian!" This could be the case of someone who has the hots for Brian.

4- "I met Helen. And Brian" This one (which I find the most interesting) might mean that the person talking is about to tell us more about Brian. (Both in a positive or negative way).

Have a nice and productive week.


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MelissiM
Italy
agree with m_bosco Jun 26, 2008

well explained!
I think no sentence is wrong, because the authors express and convey very very different feeelings


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