Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Have you ever worried that sloppy syntax would make you the laughing stock of your local grammar rodeo? Do you succumb to fearful suspicion at the mere mention of semicolons? Then send a prayer of thanksgiving to the Grammar Gods for Punctuation, Part I: the semicolon.

Let’s hit the ground running with the most misunderstood and intentionally avoided squiggle in all of the English language: the semicolon. And yes, I just used a colon to introduce a semicolon. Get over it.

There are three main uses for a semicolon. For starters, the semicolon can be used in place of andbutornorsofor, or yet to join closely related, complete sentences (independent clauses) together; be sure your two clauses are indeed full sentences and not fragments, lest you learn the hard way. It’s also important to note that because is not in that list of conjunctions semicolons can replace. If you want to be technical, that list only includes coordinating conjunctions, while because is a subordinating conjunction. This is a somewhat common error, but it’s best to learn from the mistakes of others. Trust me.

The second use for semicolons also joins two independent clauses; however, instead of replacing a coordinating conjunction, the semicolon links two phrases with a transitional word or phrase such as however, of course, or thus. This use is a bit more obscure and academic; of course, there’s nothing wrong with being academic.

The third and final use for a semicolon is to link together a list of items with internal commas, as to avoid confusion by adding yet more commas between the items listed. This use of the semicolon is sometimes called the super comma. And now, enjoy one final meta example that also summarizes the three uses of semicolons discussed above. The semicolon has several uses: it can be used to in place of andbutornorsofor, or yet to join two related independent clauses together; it can be used to join two independent clauses linked with a transitional word or phrase; and it can be used as a super comma to list items when one or more of those items contain internal commas.

After this rundown, hopefully semicolons seem a little less daunting. Go now; punctuate with confidence.

Sources: 12