By in Tutorials

The Art of the Semicolon

LadyTrouble wrote in this article http://personapaper.com/article/23898-self-consciously-yours about how hard it was to remember whether to us a semi-colon or a comma. I decided to tackle the easier part, which is the use of the semi-colon (commas could get pages and pages, rather than one post).

Semicolons are for separating phrases that could both stand on their own, as in this example:

Bananas are tasty; they are a good source of fiber.

Each of these could actually be a sentence by itself:

Bananas are tasty. They are a good source of fiber.

If you used a comma in that spot, you would have a run-on sentence, which is grammatically incorrect:

Bananas are tasty, they are a good source of fiber. (It's in red because it is incorrect.)

See how that sounds all jumbled together? Hence "run-on". So just remember--semicolons allow you to modulate the flow of your writing by combining what would otherwise be short, choppy sentences. If you want to use a comma, instead, just add a conjunction, like so:

Bananas are tasty, and they are a good source of fiber.

Or skip the comma and the conjunction and also the subject (they) or the subject and verb (they are) of the second phrase:

Bananas are tasty and are a good source of fiber.

Bananas are tasty and a good source of fiber.

At this point, you are probably very, very tired of hearing about bananas, so let's move on to different fruit. Note this example of simple list:

The menu features three fruits: grapes, cherries, and blackberries.

Commas easily separate the items on the simple list, but if the list gets more complicated, including additional punctuation, more words, or includes numbered or lettered items, semicolons are used between the items, instead:

The menu features three fruits: lush, hand-picked grapes; tart, juicy cherries; and fresh, organic blackberries.

The menu features three fruits:

1. Hand-picked grapes;

2. Tart cherries;

3. Organic blackberries.

I hope this helps clear up any confusion over the use of semicolons!


Image Credit » http://pixabay.com/en/artistic-calligraphy-writing-design-300097/

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Comments

Ellis wrote on February 16, 2015, 8:38 PM

Tell me more about the bananas...it was just starting to get interesting and then you switched to grapes...lol

CoralLevang wrote on February 16, 2015, 10:14 PM

Ah, the use of the Oxford comma would generate some debate, however. emoticon :winking:

bestwriter wrote on February 16, 2015, 10:20 PM

Actually semi colons could be easily done with emoticon :tongue:

Ruby3881 wrote on February 16, 2015, 10:38 PM

Loving your artful use of the semi-colon - and of the Oxford comma as well! Sharing emoticon :smile:

Ruby3881 wrote on February 16, 2015, 10:40 PM

I, for one, am a supporter! Glad I wasn't the only one to pick up on it emoticon :winking:

snerfu wrote on February 16, 2015, 10:48 PM

One has to stop somewhere. I usually wait for the period. At times, I use the hyphen to separate words that explain the word I just wrote -- a definition of the word perhaps -- and then move on. Perhaps the semi-colon like the colon needs more investigation; one needs to understand why there is a difference at all.

wolfgirl569 wrote on February 16, 2015, 10:49 PM

I just write two sentences for things like that. But bananas are good

BarbRad wrote on February 16, 2015, 11:04 PM

I'm also a supporter. I wonder if someone got a doctorate for advocating it not be used anymore.

CoralLevang wrote on February 16, 2015, 11:25 PM

I have been "docked" points on papers for using the Oxford comma. As well, I have been criticized in pieces written on-line for the same reason.

LadyTrouble wrote on February 16, 2015, 11:30 PM

Thank you so much for this breakdown. I'll have to re-read over this later, but I believe that I've got the jist of it. Now I'm reading all these comments and what is this about the Oxford Comma? What have I been missing all these years? I was never taught that in school.

AliCanary wrote on February 16, 2015, 11:33 PM

AP Stylebook advocates against it, but I started using it again after I saw the perfect sentence that demonstrates why it should ALWAYS be used:
They invited the strippers, Hitler and Mussolini.

AliCanary wrote on February 16, 2015, 11:37 PM

The Oxford comma is the comma that appears before the "and" in the simple list I wrote: grapes, cherries, and blackberries. Some usage "experts" have advocated against it, mainly in journalistic applications, for being unnecessary. I beg to differ, specifically because the result is confusing (and potentially hilarious) examples such as the one I wrote above about the strippers et al.

CoralLevang wrote on February 17, 2015, 12:19 AM

Bwahahahahahahahahahahaahahahahahahahahahah!

cheri wrote on February 17, 2015, 1:46 AM

Thanks for this tutorial. AT times I am having trouble using the punctuation marks

DarkSinistar wrote on February 17, 2015, 7:14 AM

I have never really trusted semi-colons. I mean, what exactly is all that winking about? Very fishy! emoticon :winking:

Last Edited: February 17, 2015, 7:15 AM

UK_Writer wrote on February 17, 2015, 11:04 AM

Since so few people these days know how to use semi-colons, it's becoming irrelevant if you slip up and do it wrong. So few people will notice!

luisga814 wrote on February 17, 2015, 11:29 AM

Wow thanks for the tutorial. I do not use semicolon in sentence construction. I am using comma most of the time.

GemOfAGirl wrote on February 17, 2015, 3:10 PM

I love semi-colons. They link phrases that are very closely linked, but without the full stop of a period.

MelissaE wrote on February 17, 2015, 3:17 PM

I, too, love semicolons and the Oxford comma; both internally punctuate my ideas exactly.

MelissaE wrote on February 17, 2015, 3:19 PM

I teach the Oxford comma as part of my English curriuclum. I tell my students that one day someone is going to tell them that it's not needed; I tell them to respond with "I refuse to battle wits with someone who is unarmed."

WordChazer wrote on February 17, 2015, 3:33 PM

Seeing as bananas and my disgestion don't agree; yes I am very fed up of hearing about bananas emoticon :grin:

I tend to make numbered lists with semicolons or no punctuation, in an attempt to clarify wordage for people who prefer to just treat people already. These are the types of medical staff who prefer not to have to read protocols about HOW they should treat people.

ViperGirl85 wrote on February 18, 2015, 12:47 PM

Thanks for posting this! Sometimes I wonder if I'm using the semicolon right.