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.
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
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 wasn’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. It should just have a comma there: If I hurry up, I can get everything done, and I can still get plenty of sleep.
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.
- The insurance coverage was finally backlogged, even though it should have already been done so now I can get refunded for that claim.
- 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.
- 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.
- My son is calmly swinging in the baby so I am able to work on my long, somewhat tedious to-do list.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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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