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Why should we be reading things that don’t interest or portain to us on standardized test; the tests that matter the most?

I'm trying to put a pause and more emphasis on, "the tests that matter the most." Is this grammatically correct?

  • This is unrelated to your question, but I believe you mean "pertain." – Katy Feb 5 '19 at 20:36
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No. A semicolon separates two things that could each stand as a sentence, it simply gives them a greater association. "The tests that matter most" is not a full sentence, it is a noun phrase.

What you want there is a comma. It is indicating an additional characteristic of standardised tests.

"Why should we be reading things that don’t interest or portain to us on standardized test, the tests that matter the most?"

It's also not a good idea to use a semicolon at the end of a clause which is supposed to be a question. It can confuse the reader.

In this case, mind you, you could stylistically put the second bit as a separate sentence, even though it doesn't stand as a sentence on its own (this happens quite a lot, especially in texts that aim to be rhetorical).

"Why should we be reading things that don’t interest or portain to us on standardized test? The tests that matter the most?"

This is because it's a convention that two questions, one after the other, where the second is not a complete sentence, are to be read as connected, the first 'providing' the missing bits of the second. This may be for two separate questions, such as "Have you been to Paris? Berlin?", but it can also be for the second to be an extension of the first, especially for rhetorical effect. It would be more powerful or punchy, rhetorically, though that's a question of style and others may disagree.

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Semicolons have two uses. One is to join two closely related independent clauses without using a coordinating conjunction(FANBOYS), and the text on each side of the semicolon must be a complete sentence in this case; another is to separate items in a series when the items themselves contain commas.

In your case:

Why should we be reading things that don’t interest or portain to us on standardized test; the tests that matter the most?

I don't see commas and the right-hand side is incomplete. I thought we can correct that this way:

Why should we be reading things that don’t interest or pertain to us on a standardized test since the test matters the most?

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No. A semicolon separates two phrases that could stand separately; in your sentence you should use a colon.

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