Thursday, October 11, 2007
I don't know how to use semicolons; however, I would like to learn.
The semicolon is a beautiful and elegant piece of punctuation; therefore, many writers overuse it, while others are so intimidated by it that they refuse to touch it. Once you learn a few simple rules, however, you'll see that the semicolon is your friend. Maybe even your best friend.
Believe it or not, there are really only TWO uses for the semicolon.
1. BETWEEN INDEPENDENT CLAUSES
Semicolons are most often used to separate two related clauses in a sentence when both clauses could stand alone as a complete sentence. In other words, a semicolon can be used as an alternative to a period, if used between two closely related sentences.
For example, here are two separate but related sentences:
The man leapt out of the car shouting angrily. The woman stood her ground on the sidewalk, arms crossed.
The same two sentences can be joined by a semicolon. Using a semicolon rather than a period to separate the two sentences emphasizes their close relationship.
The man leapt out of the car shouting angrily; the woman stood her ground on the sidewalk, arms crossed.
2. BETWEEN ITEMS IN A SERIES (WITH MULTIPLE COMMAS)
Normally, items in a list can be separated with regular old commas, as in the following sentence:
His traveling menagerie included a llama, a tiger, and a gerbil.
However, when the list already contains multiple commas, you must separate the items with semicolons, as in the following example:
His traveling menagerie included Hercules, an orange cat; Gwen, a large brown dog; Juanita, a blind raven; and three giant turtles, all of whom were named Thomas.
Get it? Great!
Now, use the semicolon in these and only these situations, and no one will ever accuse you of being a semicolon abuser again.