A Short Post on the SemiColon

Awhile ago, I wrote a short post on commas, confessing that it was a short post because I really didn't know much about them. 

One of my writing friends, Anthony (who is not only an amazing writer but a judge, for God's sake) suggested I write a post about semicolons.  Sure thing, I wrote him in an email.

And then I didn't write the post.

Because, guess what?  I think I know even less about semicolons than I do about commas.

But then I decided I liked this short post thing I had going on and that I'd give it a shot.  So here goes.

You use a semi-colon when linking two complete clauses.  (Think of a complete clause as a sentence.  I'm sure there's a more complex definition of it, but if so, I don't know it.  And won't know it.  So let's keep things simple.) 

So, two complete clauses:

The room was elegant and dark.  The woman who sat in it matched the decor.

Linked with a semicolon:

The room was elegant and dark; the woman who sat in it matched the decor.

As far as I'm concerned (and I'm willing to admit I could be wrong) you use a semicolon in circumstances when you want to link the complete clauses in some way.  In the example above, it makes sense to link the two phrases, no? 

But, honestly?  Either style works for me.  True confession: I tend to think of semicolons as a bit stuffy and pedantic.  I rarely use them, to the point that the grammar check on my computer hates me because it corrects my commas with semicolons so often.  Sometimes I put the semicolons in just to make it happy.

Because I have done a relatively lame incomplete job of discussing the semicolon, I present you with these resources to further enhance your understanding of this bit of puncutation.

How To Use a Semicolon (the most feared punctuation on earth).  This post from The Oatmeal is funny, charming, and actually informative.  I highly recommend it.  The author also discusses the theory of the pause in grammar, which is how I do commas.

Semicolon.  I find this Wikipedia page complicated and obtuse, but you might like it.  I'm willing to admit that my dislike of the semicolon is coloring my opinion of it.

The Semicolon.  I can't figure out what this site is, but it features a clear explanation of the punctuation in question.

What are your feelings about semicolons?  Do you have feelings about semicolons?  It's okay if you don't, but let's discuss anyway.



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10 Responses to A Short Post on the SemiColon

  1. J.D. 11/29/2012 at 04:27 #

    A semicolon is the marriage of a comma and a period. I disagree with the author above. The semicolon is the true pause; the comma is a mini-pause.

  2. Zan Marie 11/29/2012 at 05:51 #

    I love the Oatmeal link! I’ve seen it before and enjoyed it again.

  3. Charlotte Dixon 11/29/2012 at 06:21 #

    See, this is why people hate grammar.  But I have to admit, when I see it written out the way you wrote it, I agree that the semicolon should be the true pause.  Of course, someone else could probably come along and convince me otherwise. 

  4. Charlotte Dixon 11/29/2012 at 06:22 #

    I'd seen it once a long time ago and forgot about it, so was glad to rediscover it.  And glad you enjoyed it, too.

  5. Debbie Maxwell Allen 11/30/2012 at 12:56 #

    I’ve been told that editors like for fiction writers to stay away from semicolons. Have you heard that?


  6. Charlotte Dixon 11/30/2012 at 15:02 #

    I once heard that editors of YA fiction don't like semicolons, but that's all I know.  Since I don't like them much, I don't use them very often.

  7. sandy 12/04/2012 at 13:55 #

    I move to strike the semi-colon from the English language entirely. Banish it into the aether never to be heard from again. :-)

    Seriously, though. This itty-bitty piece of punctuation trips me up so much I don’t even use it. If I have two complete clauses together I just make them separate sentences. My sanity thanks me for it every time.

  8. Charlotte Dixon 12/04/2012 at 14:38 #

    Let's start a campaign to banish it, shall we?  I'm with you, Sandy, the only time I usually use a semi-colon is when the grammar check suggests it.  And even then I usually end up rewriting the sentences.  The semi-colon just feels stuffy to me.

  9. Anon A. Mus 12/12/2012 at 16:48 #

    I often feel like a semi-colon because my boss makes me do things half-ass.

  10. Charlotte Dixon 12/12/2012 at 16:55 #

    Oh dear, I must say this is one of the funniest comments I've gotten in quite awhile.

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