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Master the Almighty Semicolon

Pat your punctuation.

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Rookie writers tend to have a hard time with the semicolon. It’s one of the most feared punctuation marks. It’s a pain point for many.

A period stacked on top of a comma, what the heck am I supposed to do with that?

Well, let’s find out.

Side note: Although punctuation isn’t the most exciting topic to read about, it’s highly beneficial to your credibility as a writer. If you want people to take you serious, learn to use a semicolon; it shows you know your stuff.

Don’t look at it as learning punctuation! See it as adding a new weapon to your arsenal as a content creator.

First things first

A semicolon indicates a pause. This pause is technically longer than a comma, but shorter than the complete stop of a period.

(Whose really counting?)

This explains the period on top of a comma! — > ;


Rule #1

A semicolon is used to connect two independent clauses. Remember, an independent clause can stand alone as a complete sentence.

Correct: The mailman dropped off a package; he had big black boots on.

Both sentences can stand alone, so a semicolon is appropriate.

We could have used a period. However, the semicolon narrows the gap between the two ideas and eliminates the need for words such as and, but, or yet.

Rule #2

Use semicolons between closely related sentences.

Correct: I always end my workouts with a 2 mile run; it builds my cardiovasuclar endurance.

Notice there’s a logical connection between the two clauses. Cardiovascular endurance is a result of running. If the following sentence builds on the first, or is a reaction to it, use a semicolon.

Incorrect: I would love to attend the dance with you; I need to pick up groceries on my way home.

In this case, the semicolon does not work. There’s no correlation between the dance and grocery shopping.

Rule #3

In some cases, semicolons are optional. But for this scenario, the semicolon becomes a bit more necessary.

Use a semicolon to link complete sentences that already contain a comma.

Correct: When two people meet for the first time, they typically shake hands; it’s a proper way to introduce yourself.

If we used a comma in this situation, it just wouldn’t work. Use a period if you wish, but you’d lose the connection between the two clauses.

Also, use semicolons before a connector (and, but, yet, etc.) when other commas appear in the first clause.

Correct: If I get home by 6 o’clock, and I plan to, I’ll be glad to make us dinner; and that’s a promise.

Notice, without the semicolon, it’s a run-on sentence. There aren’t enough pauses for the reader!

Rule #4

This rule is commonly known as the super-comma.

Use a semicolon to separate items in a series when one or more of the units require a comma.

Correct: My favorite people include Steve Jobs, creator of Apple; Tom Cruise, a famous actor; and John Mayer, an incredible musician.

The super-comma comes in handy for listing descriptions, locations, and dates. Notice the confusion if we leave out the semicolon:

Incorrect: People have gathered from schools in Cincinnati, Ohio, Bowling Green, Kentucky, Nashville, Tennessee, and Elkhart, Indiana.

Without the super-comma, this sentence becomes a mess.

You’re all set

That wasn’t too bad, eh?

Keep two things in mind:

  • Do not use a semicolon to replace a colon. They are separate marks for a reason.
  • Do not capitalize ordinary words after a semicolon.

Look to incorporate the semi in your writing today!

Thanks to The Oatmeal and GrammarBook for mad references.

-AZ


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