The Dreaded Semicolon Is Totally Cool, part 1

If there is one type of punctuation that most commonly confuses writers of all ages, it is the semicolon. You know, the comma with the dot hovering over it. However, using semicolons is not difficult once you know the rules of the two main ways to use them. Today, we’ll look at the first and main way we use semicolons.

A semicolon connects two independent clauses, which simply means two parts of a sentence that could each be sentences on their own. In other words, each clause (part) will have its own subject and verb and can stand as its own sentence.

  • The weather is lovely today; let’s have a picnic by the river.

Each clause makes perfect sense by itself: The weather is lovely. Let’s have a picnic.

Probably because they would both be such short, simple sentences, and because they are closely related thoughts, the writer decides to connect them with a semicolon. Here’s another:

  • We were running late to the bus stop; the rumbling bus engine was growing louder.

Again, both clauses can be complete thoughts/sentences: We are late. We hear the bus.

Here, we need to know they are late and not quite at the bus stop for the part about the engine being louder (meaning it is getting closer) to make much sense. A semicolon connects the two separate thoughts directly instead of them being separate sentences, so we know the two thoughts go together and can figure out what is happening.

One thing that makes a semicolon different from most punctuation is that using a semicolon is a matter of choice. There are almost always other options such as making separate sentences or using comma/conjunction combinations.

  • The weather is lovely today, so let’s have a picnic by the river.

A comma and conjunction (and, but, so) can be used to connect the two ideas. That’s fine here, but the second example about the bus works better with the semicolon because we are supposed to associate two different things (running late, the engine noise) to create one idea.

It’s been said you can go your whole life and never use a semicolon, but the point here is that using them is not that difficult and they can be a nifty “trick” to use occasionally in your essays to express yourself (and impress teachers).

Next month, we’ll look at another useful way to use semicolons; we promise, your mastery of this misunderstood punctuation mark will grow strong.

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The Dreaded Semicolon Is Totally Cool, part 2 >

We’re back with another look at semicolons. That’s right, the fun won’t stop! This time…