Semicolons with Independent Clauses Part 2

General Thoughts on the Semicolon:

(same thoughts as in Part 1 so skip this if you already read Part 1):

For some reason unbeknownst to me, this is the punctuation mark that people love to hate. Some say it is too stuffy and formal for fiction; others say it shouldn’t be used even in nonfiction because readers don’t understand it.

But I love me a well-placed semicolon.

If you prefer not to use semicolons in your manuscript, I respect your choice. But I do find them useful.

Unlike commas and periods, semicolons aren’t required. You can easily rewrite a sentence to never need a semicolon, so essentially, they are stylistic choices.

Style Rule:

Use a semicolon between two independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction if the clauses contain several commas or if the clauses are lengthy.

 

Terms to Know:

Clause: Contains both a subject and a verb

Independent clause: Can stand on its own—essentially, a complete sentence

Coordinating conjunction: Joins words, phrases, or clauses together. For, or, nor, but, or, yet, so

 


Examples:

If you would listen, you would understand my brilliant, quirky plan; and if you agree to go along with it, I think this could become a cherished memory, which your kids will enjoy hearing you share.

  • Typically a comma would go before the “and” joining the two independent clauses. However, both clauses contain two commas and so a semicolon more clearly separates the two clauses.
  • The author could make these two separate sentences, but they are closely related enough in thought that the author may want to put them together.

After seeing the time, I need to just go to bed, even though I did get plenty of sleep last night; but I do want to finish categorizing my purchases on Mint, which tracks my budget.

  • Granted this sentence is super packed and not the best; however, you can see the semicolon more clearly separates the two clauses. (If I weren’t so tired, I could possibly craft a better example :D)

 

Examples of poor semicolon use

 

As stated in the style rule, you don’t want to put semicolons before a coordinating conjunction joining sentences together unless the clauses contain several commas.

If one clause has a single comma, or even two, but the other clause does not, or if they each only have one, using a comma with the coordinating conjunction to separate the clauses is the way to go.

If I hurry up, I can get everything done; and I can still get plenty of sleep.

  • Since there is only one comma in the first clause and none in the second clause, a comma will clearly separate the clauses; thus, a semicolon isn’t needed.

Practice:

Note: Since semicolons are a stylistic choice, none of these sentences need a semicolon, but some contain too many internal commas in the clauses, so a semicolon could aid the reader. Put in a semicolon in any sentence you feel might be needed.

 

  1. The insurance coverage was finally backlogged, even though it should have already been done so now I can get refunded for that claim.

 

  1. While she is a smart, funny girl, I just don’t like her like that but I do hope she wants to still be friends, especially since she is my favorite study buddy.

 

  1. My two crazy cats, Livvy and Abby, knock the items off my desk all the time, though I know they don’t mean to and I can’t think of a way, other than getting them a bed in my office, to prevent it.

 

  1. My son is calmly swinging in the baby so I am able to work on my long, somewhat tedious to-do list.

 


Answers:

 

  1. The insurance coverage was finally backlogged, even though it should have already been done, (comma not semicolon—only one comma in first clause) so now I can get refunded for that claim.

 

  1. While she is a smart, funny girl, I just don’t like her like that; but I do hope she wants to still be friends, especially since she is my favorite study buddy.

 

  1. My two crazy cats, Livvy and Abby, knock the items off my desk all the time, though I know they don’t mean to; and I can’t think of a way, other than getting them a bed in my office, to prevent it.

 

  1. My son is calmly swinging in the baby, (comma not semicolon—only one comma in second clause) but I still can’t work on my long, somewhat tedious to-do list.

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