Master the Almighty Semicolon
Pat your punctuation.
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! — > ;
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.
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.
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!
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.