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Nothing beats the feeling of flipping through real paper; trace its contours, take in its musty scent.

I'm a bit confused. Should I write:

...tracing its contours, taking in the musty scent.

Instead?

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    Absolutely! Otherwise it sounds like hell.
    – CocoPop
    Commented Jan 1, 2015 at 14:58

1 Answer 1

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In your original sentence, the grammar is technically correct, but "trace" and "take" are imperative commands. Consider the same words, formatted differently:

Nothing beats the feeling of flipping through real paper. Trace its contours! Take in its musty scent!

You are directly commanding the reader (or someone) to trace and to take. The "Nothing beats ... real paper" is one complete independent clause and the "*trace its ... musty scent" is another. They are joined by a semicolon.


The following is also correct (but not very poetic):

Nothing beats the feeling of flipping through real paper, tracing its contours, and taking in its musty scent.

Here, the preposition of has three objects (joined by and): flipping, tracing, and taking. These are all gerunds, ending with -ing, and they meaning "the act of flipping", etc.

If you want to be more poetic (and less formal), you can remove and:

Nothing beats the feeling of flipping through real paper, tracing its contours, taking in its musty scent.

For any list, we must consistently use a comma (,) instead of a semicolon (;). When separating items from a list, you should separate them all by commas. Very rarely you can use semicolons, when the list follows a colon (:) and the items of the list have commas inside of them, like:

I met three people today: Jane, the sailor; Daniel, the cook; and Eli, the soldier.

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  • The missing "and" burns my eyes, honestly. It doesn't sound poetic to me; it just sounds wrong. Otherwise, excellent answer. :) Commented Jan 1, 2015 at 19:57
  • (Native AmE) I find the version without and more poetic. It encourages the reader to imagine, by suggesting that there is more sensory experience than explicitly stated. The version with and suggests that the list is complete and exhaustive: nothing beats the feeling of exactly those three things. The suggestion of exhaustiveness made by and is so implausible, including it almost seems like an error.
    – Ben Kovitz
    Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 1:59

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