Last week I got a request for a blog post on proper semicolon usage, and I’m now obliging! Corey Wright, I hereby dedicate this post to you.
Semicolons denote a semi-hard stop. They indicate a greater separation of thought than a comma but less than the separation a comma conveys. Semicolons are used to clarify, separate and add variety to sentences.
1. Use a semicolon to clarify a series if the elements in the series contain commas.
- I have lived in Greenville, S.C.; Columbia, S.C.; Newcastle, Australia; and Atlanta, Georgia.
Because each item in the list requires a comma to separate the city, a semicolon is necessary to separate the items themselves.
- I met a lot of talented writers at DFWcon; they make wonderful crit partners.
- Grammar and punctuation can be difficult to wrap your head around; I try to make these things easy to understand.
You could technically use a period to make each of these examples two separate sentences. However, if you already have a lot of shorter sentences, you might want to use semicolons to vary your sentence structure.
*But you can’t just stick two unrelated sentences together. For example, this wouldn’t fly:
I met a lot of talented writers at DFWcon; macaroni and cheese is delicious.
3. Use a semicolon before a conjunctive adverb or transitional phrase to link two clauses.
- I enjoy reading all types of books; however, I prefer to read YA books.
- Corey needed help understanding semicolon usage; therefore, I wrote this post.
*If you have a hard time remembering that commas combine coordinating conjunctions and semicolons combine conjunctive adverbs, here’s an easy reminder that one of my professors once mentioned: Commas are smaller than semicolons and combine coordinating conjunctions (and, but, or, nor, for, so), which are shorter than conjunctive adverbs (however, conversely, therefore, etc.).
Photo: Saucy Salad/flickr
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- Subjunctive voice, the misplaced ‘only’ and the truth about Oxford commas with Lola and Cricket
- Using commas correctly with Carrie Ryan’s “The Forest of Hands and Teeth”