Virginia Woolf, Semi-Colons, and (Hopefully) a Colon Example

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"But the thermals that benignly waft our sentences to new altitudes - that allow us to coast on air, and loop-the-loop, suspending the laws of gravity- well, they are the colons and semicolons.  If you don't believe me, ask Virginia Woolf:

'As for the other experiences, the solitary ones, which people go through alone, in their bedrooms, in their offices, walking the fields and the streets of London, he had them; had left home, a mere boy, because of his mother; she lied; because he came down to tea for the fiftieth time with his hands unwashed; because he could see no future for a poet in Stroud; and so, making a confidant of his little sister, had gone to London leaving an absurd not behind him, such as great men have written, and the world has read later when the story of their struggles has become famous.’

                                        Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway, 1925

Look at that sentence fly.  Amazing.”

-From page 106-107 of Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss


I've never seen a sentence this long!  It truly is as "Amazing" as Truss says.  I love that Truss gives us examples and practical rules of application, but I love even more that she uses the punctuation marks herself in her descriptions.  I think the biggest problem with teaching these two types of punctuation is that teachers often just show examples of what is or is not proper, and then they are done.  What middle or high school teacher uses colons and semicolons in notes on a daily basis?  None of mine ever did.  Just a few examples in one chapter of a grammar book are not enough.  This is probably because most teachers are not comfortable with complex punctuation and grammar themselves.  One of the reasons why I chose to major in English is so that when I do become a teacher, I will be able to enforce the proper writing techniques that are so important to my students (and I love reading and writing).  I will even begin right now: I will (maybe?) use a colon properly.


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