Semicolons — Powerful and Simple

Lots of people have trouble with semicolons; they over think them. semicolonSemicolons are one of the brawniest punctuation marks, but they’re not all that complicated. There are really only two ways to use a semicolon: to join two closely related independent clauses together (thus avoiding a comma splice or other run-on sentence) and in a series where there are internal commas. Semicolons show their muscle when they hold together two independent clauses. People are always trying to load this job onto commas, but it is the semicolons that have the umph to be successful. Incorrect: Many people don’t think it’s important to properly use semicolons, they figure commas are good enough. Correct: Many people don’t think it’s important to properly use semicolons; they figure commas are good enough. “What’s the big deal?” Well, we sometimes want people to slow down but not stop completely as they would with a period. On the other hand, a comma doesn’t really slow the reader down enough. Commas also do so many other things that using it to join independent clauses, too, can get confusing. Which leads to my next point – using semicolons to separate elements in a series that have internal commas. Incorrect: Santa’s sleigh is pulled by eight reindeer: Dasher, the speedy one, Dancer, the tap expert, Prancer, the one filled with pride, Vixen, the sexy one, Comet, the one with its head in the clouds, Cupid, the love guru, Donner, the snazzy dresser, and Blitzen, the drunk. Correct: Santa’s sleigh is pulled by eight reindeer: Dasher, the speedy one; Dancer, the tap expert; Prancer, the one filled with pride; Vixen, the sexy one; Comet, the one with its head in the clouds; Cupid, the love guru; Donner, the snazzy dresser; and Blitzen, the drunk. By containing each description with the thing it is describing, the reader doesn’t have to do the work of figuring what is connected to what. That’s the semicolon’s job. Give the semicolon its due; don’t try to replace it with a comma.

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