Let’s Talk Grammar for a While
The Snippy Semicolon
Next to apostrophes, I’d say semicolons are probably the most misused punctuation marks used in the English language. I dare say most people aren’t really sure what to do with the little period with the comma dangling underneath, so they either guess, and guess wrongly, or they avoid using the punctuation mark altogether, which is probably a wise decision.
Sometimes semicolons can be used in a long series when commas are also needed, but this is such an unusual complex situation, I don’t think we even need to go there today. This information might be useful to someone who’s possibly writing a textbook on the classification of flora and fauna, but it’s not needed for the average writer. So let’s look at the two times when a semicolon is preferred in “normal” writing:
- Sometimes when you have two compound sentences closely related, you can use a semicolon instead of a period and a capital letter to separate them:
Example: Mary decided to remodel the kitchen; she purchased new linoleum first.
Example: George booked a midnight flight to Paris; but his flight was cancelled due to snow.
Now, you’re probably wondering why you can’t just use a period and a capital to separate these sentences in the examples. Well, you can. It’s a writer’s preference. Often it might just add a little flavor to your voice to throw in a few semicolons instead of brand new sentences, especially when the two sentences are so closely related. Also, in the second example, there’s no reason why you couldn’t separate the two compound sentences with a comma either. Again, it’s the writer’s preference. Here’s the next common use for the semicolon:
- Use a semicolon to separate two clauses of a compound sentence or two compound sentences when divided by an adverb such as: however, then, thus, hence, indeed, besides, accordingly, and therefore. This example is the one I see misused the most. Here are some correct uses:
Example: Jack bought me a birthday gift; therefore, I sent him a thank-you note.
Example: I thought I was adopting a nice calm dog; however, Bailey is a little furball of energy!
Example: I started my Christmas shopping early; hence, I was done by December 15th.
IMPORTANT! Always remember to add a comma after the adverb!
So, there you have the two most common uses of the semicolon. Spruce up your writing by using it once in awhile; but use the little rascal correctly!
Next time, we’ll discuss everyone’s favorite punctuation mark—the overused comma!
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