Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Dreaded Semicolon

So I heard someone say the other day that the semicolon is the most feared punctuation on the planet, and while I don’t think we need to be overly dramatic about the use of it I would agree that the majority of the population either doesn’t understand and/or incorrectly uses the semicolon.

Maybe it’s the teacher in me, but I felt the need to give a little mini-lesson. So here it goes:

~  The most common way to use a semicolon is to combine two independent clauses (independent clause is just a fancy word for a simple sentence that contains a subject and a predicate). And here’s the trick…(dramatic pause)…the two independent clauses MUST be, well, independent, meaning they could each stand alone, meaning if you covered up the second independent clause, the first would read as a complete sentence and vice versa.

~ But you can’t just plop a semicolon between two complete sentences because you feel like it; a semicolon should be used when you want to form a bond between the two ideas or statements. (Like I just did.) This is usually done when the two sentences are related to or contrast with one another. Like these:

His eyes flicked to the hold he had around my wrist; his fingers overlapped with ease, encircling around once and a half as if the point needed to be beaten in further.

Call me tomorrow; I’ll tell you everything then.

I told Ryan to run for the hills; I wonder if he knew I was joking.

~ Now if you have a conjunction (and, but, or, yet, nor, for, so) between the two, leave out the semicolon. In this case, the conjunction is what ties the two independent clauses together so there would be no need for our lovely little friend the semicolon. (See how I did that?)  

~ For those of you who want to go one step further, a semicolon can also be used between an independent clause and a semi clause which are linked with a transitional phrase or a conjunctive verb. (I know, it’s a little wordy, but look at the examples.)

Everyone knows Shaun spray painted the locker; of course, it will never be proven.

Bill is Canadian; however, he lives in the United States.

I have paid my tuition; therefore, I expect a full year’s stay.

~ You can also use a semicolon between items in a series that contain internal punctuation. Like this:

He saw three girls: Sara, who was in his English class; Lisa, the coach’s daughter; and Megan, the one with the long blond hair.

I hope this helps. If you have any questions or ideas on what you’d like me to cover next, post them below. Until then, happy writing!

1 comment:

  1. This was really helpful!!! I am a big fan of yours now, since discovering your blog from Stina Lindblatt's blog. Working together toward common goals is the best!