Semicolon? More like, Semi-confusing
Stop us if you’ve heard this one: What did the semicolon get after breaking the grammar law? Two consecutive sentences.
Jokes aside, the dreaded and often misunderstood semicolon has been the cause of much consternation among countless writers, young and old.
Kurt Vonnegut, author of 14 novels, three short story collections, five plays, and five works of non-fiction, famously said of semicolons, “All they do is show you’ve been to college.”
Well, we’ve been to college. And today we’re going to take you to semicolon school. It’s taking up valuable real estate on your keyboard and now it’s time you learned how to use them, properly.
Fundamentally, the semicolon is a grammatical tool used to connect thoughts and eliminate confusion. Yet, in practicality, it usually leads many to be even more confused.
The semicolon is the dark horse of punctuation; it’s time to embrace this tool. A semicolon doesn’t have to be complicated; its rules are simple and few. Once you add it to your arsenal, you can clean up the messiest copy and add variety to your writing style.
Let’s take a look at the instances where a semicolon can be used:
Connecting related clauses
Simply put, a semicolon is used to separate two independent clauses. A what? A clause is part of a sentence that contains the subject and verb. The significance with the semicolon is that you’re connecting two independent clauses, meaning that it conveys a complete thought.
Confused? Here’s an example of what works:
Tom’s colleague sat across from him reading a great blog about semicolons; Tom was watching the Mets.
If you want to make sure you’re using this punctuation correctly, read the two clauses on their own to see if they make sense.
Segregating complex lists
Have you ever written a list, only to find that by the end it’s a disorganized mess of commas and words? Semicolons can become your best friend in this case as they separate items in a list whose individual items contain commas.
The winning trivia team was comprised of six members: three from Portland, Maine; two from Boston, Massachusetts; and one from Bridgeport, Connecticut.
Sitting before connective expressions
Occasionally, you need punctuation that’s stronger than a simple comma, especially when it comes to connective expressions. Semicolons make those sentences more readable.
Jim dropped the first tennis set in his match with Will; however, he took the next two sets to win the match.
A good rule of thumb is to use a semicolon with connective expressions like “however,” “therefore,” and “nevertheless.” Then again, we’d prefer to avoid the word “nevertheless.” But that’s for a separate blog.
As you can see, semicolons don’t have to be intimidating. They have a valuable place in our writing and, hopefully, you will be more confident to dust them off.