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A Study in Punctuation, Ellipsis, and Breaking the Rules
Based on "The Lagoon," by Joseph Conrad
Analysis Key

     The sentences in this exercise all bend (break?) the modern textbook rules of punctuation, most frequently with a semicolon (or semicolons). Semicolons are now used to separate main clauses or to separate items in a series when the items themselves include commas. If you haven't noticed it, editors "edit" texts for different publications. Thus punctuation, among other things, shows slight changes depending on the source. This text has been aligned with that in The Portable Conrad, Revised Edition. New York: The Viking Press, 1947 [1975], pp. 630-647. This version should be easily obtainable, should you wish to check it.
     Please remember that the objective of exercises of this type  is to have student discuss the punctuation and to speculate on why it might be the way it is. In several cases, Conrad used semicolons where most writers would probably use commas. The semicolons suggest a both a heavier break between the things being combined with them and a stronger logical connection. One way of looking at many of these cases is to say that he has ellipsed part of a main clause, thereby tightening the style. I have suggested how this might work by including expanded versions after the relevant sentences. If you are interested in statistical stylistic exercises, the fundamental yardstick of which is words per main clause, note how Conrad's semicolons raise questions about where main clauses end.

1. Sounds hesitating [PPA] and vague [PPA] floated {in the air} {round him}, shaped 

themselves (DO) slowly {into words} ; and {at last} flowed on gently {in a murmuring 

stream} {of soft and monotonous sentences}. |

Sounds hesitating and vague floated in the air round him, shaped themselves slowly into words; and at last *they* flowed on gently in a murmuring stream of soft and monotonous sentences.
2. *You* Speak [Adv. to "Speak" before both night and love are gone (PA)] — 

and [*before* the eye {of day} looks {upon my sorrow and my shame} ; {upon my

blackened face} ; {upon my burnt-up heart}]. |

Speak before both night and love are gone—and *before* the eye of day looks upon my sorrow and my shame; *and before the eye of day looks* upon my blackened face; *and before the eye of day looks* upon my burnt-up heart. Do the semicolons, in addition to shortening the text, make each of the three prepositional phases more emphatic than commas would?
3. It was a time (PN) {of peace}. | *It was* A time (PN) {of deer hunts and cock 

fights} ; {of idle talks and foolish squabbles} {between men} [Adj. to "men" whose [#1] 

bellies are full (PA)] and [Adj. to "men" *whose* weapons are rusty (PA)]. |

It was a time of peace. *It was* A time of deer hunts and cock fights; *and it was a time* of idle talks and foolish squabbles between men whose bellies are full and *whose* weapons are rusty.
4. They brought news (DO), too. | *They* Brought lies (DO) and truth (DO) 

mixed [#2] together, [Adv. (result)  [#3] so that no man knew when to rejoice [#4] 

and when to be sorry [#4] ]. |

They brought news, too. *They* Brought lies and truth mixed together, so that no man knew when to rejoice and when to be sorry. This is a simple fragment, but the absent "They" shortens the text and makes is more abrupt--disturbing, perhaps comparable to the disturbing mixture of "lies and truth"?
5. She sat {in the middle} {of the canoe} {with covered face} ; silent [PPA] [Adv. to "silent"

as she is now] ; unseeing [PPA] [Adv. to "unseeing" as she is now] |and I had no 

regret (DO) {at [OP what [#5] I was leaving]} [Adv. to "no" because I could 

hear her breathing [#6] close {to me}[Adv. to "could hear" as I can hear her (DO)

now]]. |

She sat in the middle of the canoe with covered face; *she was* silent as she is now; *she was* unseeing as she is now—and I had no regret at what I was leaving because I could hear her breathing close to me—as I can hear her now.
6. There [#7] was no better paddler (PN), no better steersman [App] {than my brother}. |
This is an interesting case because is raises a question. Is there an "and" missing after the comma, or is "steersman" an appositive to "paddler"? The "and" would imply that the paddler and the steersman are two different things, whereas the appositive implies that the same person is performing the same function.
7. We ran our canoe (DO) {on the white beach} {of a little bay} close [#8] {to a long 

tongue} {of land} [Adj. to "tongue" that seemed to bar our road (DO) ; a long wooded 

cape going [#9] far {into the sea} ]. |

We ran our canoe on the white beach of a little bay close to a long tongue of land that seemed to bar our road; *The land was* a long wooded cape going far into the sea. Perhaps the semicolon was used here to break the appositive "cape" from "road," thereby pushing the reader to chunk it back to "tongue of land."
8. [Adv. to "saw" Before I heard my brother fire the third shot [#10] ] I saw the 

shelving shore (DO), | and I saw the water (DO) again ; the mouth [App] {of a broad river}. |

Before I heard my brother fire the third shot I saw the shelving shore, and I saw the water again; *It was* the mouth of a broad river. This is comparable to the preceding example, but in the case the apposition is very clear without the semicolon. Does the semicolon add force to the apposition?

Notes
1. "Whose" functions simultaneously as subordinating conjunction and as adjective to "bellies."
2. "Mixed" can be explained as a gerundive that modifies "lies" and "truth," but KISS prefers to explain "lies and truth mixed together" as a noun absolute phrase that functions as the direct object of "Brought."
3. Some people will see this clause as modifying "mixed" and some will see it as modifying "brought." Either explanation makes sense.
4. Within KISS, these "when" constructions can be explained in either of two ways. "When" can be described as a pronoun that functions as the direct object of "knew" and the infinitives can be seen as functioning as adjectives to the pronouns, or "when" can be explained an adverb that modify the infinitives and the infinitive phrases can be considered the direct objects of "knew." "Sorry" is a predicate adjective after the infinitive "to be."
5. This "what" functions simultaneously as subordinating conjunction and as the direct object of "was leaving."
6. "Her: can be explained as the subject of the gerund "breathing," thus making "breathing" the direct object of "could hear," or "her breathing" can be explained as a noun absolute that functions as the direct object of "could her." The first explanation put emphasis on "breathing" because it reduces "her" to a modifier; the second puts equal emphasis on "her" and on "breathing."
7. Alternatively, "There" can be described as an expletive, thereby making "paddler" the subject.
8. "Close" can be explained as a post-positioned adjective to "bay," or, if one prefers to explain "close" as an adverb, one can say that it is the remnant of an ellipsed subordinate clause -- "bay *which was* close...."
9. Although some people may prefer to describe "cape" as an appositive to "tongue of land" and "going" as a gerundive that modifies "cape," others will see "cape going" as a noun absolute that functions as an appositive to "tongue of land."
10. "Shot" is the direct object, and "brother" is the subject of the infinitive "fire." The infinitive phrase functions as the direct object of "heard."