Take a Bigger Break, and Use a Semicolon

Take a Bigger Break, and Use a Semicolon

Do not underestimate the importance of accurate punctuation.  It can make a world of difference in your writing.

Yes, I know that I said this in my blog on comma usage, but it still applies. 

Sometimes a comma just does not work. The semicolon is often thought of as a larger break.  While not entirely or always the case, it is a good way to think of it in general.

This blog contains a few pointers about the use of a semicolon (and a bit more about commas as necessary) to help you get started on improving your finished product.

The rules and conventions mentioned here are primarily for formal, nonfiction writing –the type you would be doing for an essay, book report, speech, and seminar. 

Fiction writing would follow many of these same rules, but it has more leeway, especially poetic works which are quite different.

Members in a Series

When you have members in a series that contain commas already, you should use a semicolon between the main items.

Example:     The meeting was comprised of Darlene, the president; Paul, the chief executive officer; and Katherine, the public relations consultant.

Internal Punctuation

If the clauses are long and/or contain internal punctuation, use a semicolon between independent clauses connected by a coordinate conjunction. (Remember those from the comma blog?  FANBOYS)

Examples:    When the bee stung Robert, he felt a sharp pain in his neck; but since he was in a hurry, he thought that he would be fine.

When she first went to work, her mother gave her advice about relationships; but her father, knowing her propensity for spending, gave her a book on financial responsibility.


Conjunctive adverb / transitional expressions

cloudsAnother important use of the semicolon is to join independent clauses (complete sentences) with a conjunctive adverb or transitional expression.  There are lots of these; however, I have listed a few of them here. (Note the use of the semicolon in the previous sentence.)

Conjunctive adverbs and transitional expressions: anyhow, as a result, besides, consequently, currently, for example, furthermore, however, in addition, in any event, in fact, meanwhile moreover, nevertheless, on the contrary, otherwise, similarly, therefore.

Examples:    Theodore is a very busy boy; in fact, he works harder than any of the other students.

You might want to put on a raincoat; otherwise, your good jacket will get ruined in the rain.

Now, make sure that you are joining two complete sentences.  If you are not, you will only need commas in most cases (noted exception above). In the following examples, there is only one independent clause.

          There are times, however, when everyone must buckle down.

          Margaret couldn’t, therefore, have been the person on the bus.


Joining independent clausesPicture3

There are times when it is acceptable to join two independent clauses (complete sentences) with just a semicolon.

Caution: Some teachers don’t ever like to see this. 

I recommend only using this method if the two sentences are relatively short, very closely related, and similar in structure.

Examples:   People don’t get into planes because they want to fly; they get into planes because they want to get somewhere faster. (Northrop Frye)

The meeting will not occur on Tuesday; it will occur on Thursday.  

Above all, don’t be afraid to write and punctuate your writing to your best ability. All learning is a process, and this includes writing.  You will learn the more you do!

I do have a course on Udemy that you can do on your own if you would like to learn more about all kinds of punctuation.

Click on the link below to join!

Punctuation Made So Easy

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