Monday, June 24, 2013

Semi-colons: Poor, Misunderstood Punctuation Marks

Good morning, this is a repost from iWriteNetwork.  It is a post by Tristi Pinkston and has given me permission to repost it.  Thanks Tristi!!

Semi-colons have been referred to as the most feared punctuation mark on earth. But just look at it, all round and cute and curly - why the terror? The fear comes in because people don't know how to use it. That's okay - I'm here to make it really simple.

A semi-colon is used to hook together two complete sentences that are closely related. For example:

Today I'm going to sleep in; playing video games all night wasn't a good idea.

Notice that we have a complete sentence before the semi-colon and another complete sentence after the semi-colon. Then notice that they are related. I played video games all night and so I'm going to sleep in - there's a cause and effect here, a definite connection.

Authors get into trouble with the semi-colon in two ways.

First, they try to stick an incomplete sentence there.

Today I'm going to sleep in; dumb video games.

"Dumb video games" isn't a complete sentence. You'd want to use an em-dash here rather than the semi-colon.

The second way to get in trouble is to hook sentences together that really aren't related.

Mark says we need to buy a new car; the kids will be home from school soon.

Okay, that was a super over-the-top example, but you get what I'm saying. If the first sentence and the second sentence aren't directly related, like a cause-and-effect thing or if the second sentence doesn't clarify or enrich the first, etc., they shouldn't be stuck together with a semi-colon.

Semi-colons were used more frequently fifty and a hundred years ago than they are now, but that doesn't mean we should never use them at all. We should use them; they're awesome. (See - like that.) But we should know how to do it correctly so we can be awesome too.

No comments:

Post a Comment