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Old 08-01-2013, 09:33 AM   #1
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Punctuation - who knows where?

Does anyone have any idea of the correct way to punctuate the following sentence (names changed to protect the innocent). The scene is of a character sitting in silence thinking about his friends:

Abby was gone, and Bill was who knows where now.

It's not actually a question, so a terminating question mark seems wrong. Older texts had no qualms about extra punctuation in the middle of a sentence, but it seems that more modern works shun the idea. Otherwise I was thinking something like this might work:

Abby was gone, and Bill was who-knows-where? now.

Any suggestions on what would be considered correct?
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Old 08-01-2013, 10:50 AM   #2
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This is how I would do it:

Abby was gone, and Bill was who-knows-where, now.


However, this is a very awkward sentence, in my opinion.

Suggestion:

Now that Abby was gone, Bill was nowhere to be found.

Or:

Bill was nowhere to be found now that Abby was gone.








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Last edited by Dr. Drib; 08-01-2013 at 10:53 AM.
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Old 08-01-2013, 11:34 AM   #3
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Thanks for your thoughts, Dr. Drib. Like dialogue, characters thoughts are not always as clearly stated as they could be, but your interpretation of my original sentence does have me concerned about how unclear it must be. You appear to be making a connection between the two clauses that was not intended.

The person, let's call him Carl, is lonely and thinking of his two best friends, but their separation from him are independent events. Abby has just departed from Carl - which is how Carl comes to be sitting there feeling sorry for himself. Bill left a long time earlier, but regular messages had kept Carl informed about where Bill was, however, the most recent message said that Bill was travelling further north and that Carl might not hear from him for a long time. They come together into a single sentence/thought, not because the events are related, but because they are his best friends and he misses them both.

So an alternative phrasing might look something like:

Abby was gone, and Carl no longer had any idea where Bill was.

I realised after I posted that my original sentence used "knew" rather than "knows" (I think I confused myself by trying to be clever in the subject).

Abby was gone, and Bill was who-knew-where now.

Perhaps even dropping the "now" would help, it's probably unnecessary (and perhaps the cause of the confusion).

Abby was gone, and Bill was who-knew-where.

Not that I am emotionally attached to "who knew where". It's just the phrase that seemed to fit the situation and character at the time I wrote I scene, but I couldn't work out how it should be punctuated.

Last edited by gmw; 08-01-2013 at 11:37 AM.
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Old 08-01-2013, 01:47 PM   #4
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While the sentence is awkward, I am not convinced it requires any punctuation excepting the period at the end.
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Old 08-01-2013, 03:15 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Penforhire View Post
While the sentence is awkward, I am not convinced it requires any punctuation excepting the period at the end.

Depends if "now" was supposed to apply to both people or just Bill.

If both, I would write it as:

Now Abby was gone and Bill was who-knows-where.

I like the "who-knows-where" and would not reword it if that's the words the author wants, but I do think adding a comma before "now" at the end would make it look too busy.

If the "now" applied only to Bill then I would only add the hyphens:

Abby was gone, and Bill was who-knows-where now.
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Old 08-01-2013, 05:18 PM   #6
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G.M.

Agree with Penforhire. (Except that I don't think the sentence is awkward.) The meaning of your sentence is absolutely clear. Technically you'd be correct to add the hyphens, but modern usage does not tend to use hyphens in that sort of situation unless the meaning is in jeopardy. (And it just looks clunky as hell if you do use them. I suppose, if you're writing for grammarians you could use them. If for normal people, no.) Remember, good writing is about effectively communicating, and you've done that with your original sentence. Plus, when you start messing with the original "organic" sentence, you rarely improve upon it.

The following quotes are from "Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft" by Janet Burroway.

"A well-written sentence normally needs very little interior punctuation."

"Punctuation is needed only to communicate a meaning not explicitly communicated by word symbols."

"Common sense should tell you that when the meaning of your words cannot be mistaken you can dispense with some punctuation marks."
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Old 08-01-2013, 09:09 PM   #7
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An interesting cross-section of views. Thanks everyone. If additional punctuation is not actually needed then I agree that it is better left out.

Apk, "now" was intended to be against the second clause, as in: until recently he did know where Bill was, but now he doesn't.

I can see the awkwardness referred to, but I had thought the meaning was fairly clear. The intention was to give the sense of a man feeling self-pity without actually saying that, the idea being that "who knows where" is a sort of defeated and helpless way of describing the separation.
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Old 08-01-2013, 09:54 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gmw View Post
Does anyone have any idea of the correct way to punctuate the following sentence (names changed to protect the innocent). The scene is of a character sitting in silence thinking about his friends:

Abby was gone, and Bill was who knows where now.

It's not actually a question, so a terminating question mark seems wrong. Older texts had no qualms about extra punctuation in the middle of a sentence, but it seems that more modern works shun the idea. Otherwise I was thinking something like this might work:

Abby was gone, and Bill was who-knows-where? now.

Any suggestions on what would be considered correct?
I really don't like the and in there, but I think your original punctuation is fine. You have two independent thoughts, I think that a period (err... full stop ) :

Abby was gone. Bill was who knows where now.

Or maybe a semicolon:

Abby was gone; Bill was who knows where now.

might be clearer then the "and" building the connection between the clauses there. I think many readers will see as joining the thoughts more then you intend them too.

Personally I am not a fan of the hyphens here at all.
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Old 08-02-2013, 01:40 AM   #9
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I did consider completely splitting in the clauses, but it doesn't read as smoothly in the paragraph that this comes from. The emotional connection is intended - he's missing his friends. I think that in the larger context the meaning is clearer. (The reader has just come from Abby's departure, and knows what is happening to Bill from a previous scene.)
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Old 08-02-2013, 03:09 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gmw View Post
Does anyone have any idea of the correct way to punctuate the following sentence (names changed to protect the innocent). The scene is of a character sitting in silence thinking about his friends:

Abby was gone, and Bill was who knows where now.

It's not actually a question, so a terminating question mark seems wrong. Older texts had no qualms about extra punctuation in the middle of a sentence, but it seems that more modern works shun the idea. Otherwise I was thinking something like this might work:

Abby was gone, and Bill was who-knows-where? now.

Any suggestions on what would be considered correct?
Abby was gone! And Bill? Bill could be anywhere now.
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Old 08-02-2013, 05:08 AM   #11
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Abby was gone! And Bill? Bill could be anywhere now.
It's a bit overly dramatic for what I wanted, but it is an interesting take on the sentence, cromag, thanks for the thought.
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Old 08-02-2013, 11:35 AM   #12
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I did consider completely splitting in the clauses, but it doesn't read as smoothly in the paragraph that this comes from. The emotional connection is intended - he's missing his friends. I think that in the larger context the meaning is clearer. (The reader has just come from Abby's departure, and knows what is happening to Bill from a previous scene.)
I'm with you. I think the expression you chose--organically, as said above--conveys just what you wanted.

I'm a fan of the hyphens because it immediately communicates the expression. Without them, the the reader (well. this reader at least) is drawn to assume "Bill was who..." is leading in something totally different: "Bill was who he most needed to speak to?" Bill was who knows best how to handle this?"

I would guess the lack of hyphens, and the resultant need to take a second to reparse "who-knows-where" as the expression, is why it seems awkward to some. If that sentence were spoken allowed, it would not seem awkward at all.

Let us know what you decide!

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Old 08-02-2013, 12:46 PM   #13
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I seem to come to a different decision each time I look at it . As noted in post #3 above, my original version actually used "knew" - past tense, matching the "was" is both clauses. (It got changed over accidentally when I was writing the OP.) With that in mind, it is more apparent that one way to rephrase the sentence would be:

Abby was gone, and who knew where Bill was now?

(A question mark seems necessary here.) If you tried to use "knows" in this version it would be obviously wrong: "Abby was gone, and who knows where Bill was now?" It would have to become "Abby is gone, and who knows where Bill is now?" - and it wouldn't fit the context very well (self pity is mostly past tense, it seems to me).

The above version avoids the need for hyphens, but I am not thrilled with it becoming a question, it's not a question in the character's mind, it's a defeated acknowledgement that he doesn't know and can't find out.

Looking at the two variations of my original sentence next to each other:

Abby was gone, and Bill was who-knew-where now.
Abby was gone, and Bill was who knew where now.

I think I can see the real benefit in the hyphens. Without them that second clause in the second sentence could (at a stretch) be interpreted as: Bill was the one that knew where Abby had gone. The hyphens make the intention more obvious, I think. (I may think differently when I look at it again tomorrow.)

I'm glad not every sentence gives me this much trouble. There's a 150,000 words in this second novel!
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Old 08-03-2013, 01:16 AM   #14
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And sure enough, tomorrow has arrived and now I'm thinking that hyphens tend to call out the sentence, bringing it to greater attention than it deserves. Without the hyphens there is a good chance that most readers will pass on by, understand the sense intended (in this context) and move on without distraction.

My wife suggests that "knows" may be better than "knew" in this context, as it better conforms to the colloquial phrasing, "who knows", and may make the sense more obvious to the reader even without the hyphens. (And the mixed tense seems less inclined, to my eye, to exhibit the ambiguity I suggested in my previous post.) As others here have continued to use "who knows", I get the impression that this is probably correct. So now I am back to:

Abby was gone, and Bill was who knows where now.

Now I really must move on. Only another 84,126 words to go.
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