My Friend, the Semicolon

After my post about my fondness for long sentences, another blogger asked for a post about the use of semicolons.  This is that post.

Complex sentences can provide a way to help set the feel of the book, or simply to vary the sentence structure in your writing so your readers don’t get bored.  The semicolon is a great way to build complex sentences, and there are some simple rules about how to use it.

The two parts of the sentence should be able to stand alone.
A semicolon joins two independent clauses into one sentence.  How do you know if it’s an independent clause?  If it can stand alone as a simple sentence.  So, a correct example would be: “I write fantasy; fantasy is full of complex sentences” and an incorrect example would be: “I write fantasy; and complex sentences.” The first is two independent clauses, and the second is not.

The two parts of the sentence should be related.
The idea of a semicolon is to link two related thoughts more closely than the sentences around them.  Think of it as a marriage.  You’re making two separate sentences share the space and punctuation of one sentence – they need to get along.  A correct example: “Carrie was pleased with her assignment; writing was one of her favorite activities” and an incorrect example: “Carrie was happy to make dinner; Bob hated grammar.”

A semicolon replaces a comma and a conjunction.
Two sentences can be combined using a comma and a conjunction instead of a semicolon.  “Carrie was pleased with her assignment, because writing was one of her favorite activities.”  “I write fantasy, and fantasy is full of complex sentences.”  You have to choose one or the other.  If you want to use a conjunction like and, because, although, use a comma, not a semicolon.  A semicolon is the right choice if you don’t want to use the conjunction.  Correct example: “Eli drives me crazy; he likes to wake me up early on my weekend.”  Incorrect example: “Eli drives me crazy; since he likes to wake me up.” (The second sentence could be corrected in two ways: drop the since  or change the semicolon to a comma.)

Semicolons are fun, although I might overuse them in my writing.  I hope these simple rules will help you to use more semicolons, too!


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Butterflymagic
    Oct 23, 2011 @ 09:08:18

    Great examples! Simple, clear language designed to instruct.


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