Saturday, April 21, 2012

S is for Semicolon: How to use one

The semicolon; that misunderstood creature. I certainly misunderstood it at one point. I thought by inserting a semicolon anywhere in my writing it made me look 'clever' ... lol. I must admit, now that I know how to use one I can get carried away, linking clause upon clause together. I've had to go back in my writing and eliminate semicolons--too much of a good thing is not good at all!

So how do you properly use a semicolon? When I edit the manuscripts of other writers, sometimes I'll find something like this:

Margaret went to the store to pick up some milk; whole wheat bread and cheese on the shelves. (This is not an actual example of what I read, but I read something similar).

So why is the semicolon in the wrong place in the above sentence? It is because the semicolon's primary function is to separate two complete sentences (clauses) that can stand alone, but are somehow related to each other. For example:

Margaret got a phone call on Wednesday; it was a call that changed her life forever.

The two sentences above can stand on their own, but there is a clear linkage between them.

In addition, the semicolon may be used to list things. It can often be found when listing name, dates, locations and description. Example:

She travelled all over the world, to London, England; Toronto, Canada; and Kingston, Jamaica.

If you didn't use a semicolon in the above sentence you would have an entire string of commas that would make the format confusing to read.

A funny and informative site to check out in terms of proper use of the semicolon is The Oatmeal.

Have a fan-tabulou day!


  1. I too am addicted to semi-colons. I love them. I hope I use them correctly. Just in case I don't, I refrained from putting any into this comment :-)

  2. Hi, having been a teacher has been helpful in knowing when to insert a semi-colon; so I am usually quite sure where to insert one. I enjoyed the tips, though, because sometimes, even knowing, we can forget. Best regards to you.
    Ruby aka Grammy :)

  3. Apparently, she leans forward to confide, semicolons are frowned upon by publishers although Word constantly suggests using one. Hehe. Blog on!

  4. Hmmm ... that's interesting. I can see how they could be frowned upon if they are used incorrectly or frequently, but I think they're a nifty little tool in the writer's belt. Thanks for the comment.

  5. I love this post, because semi-colons are second only to ellipses as my favorite punctuation mark! They are quite underused; many people are too afraid of placing them in the wrong place. They also aren't always necessary, except in complex lists. You can break apart two independent clauses into separate sentences instead of joining them together with a semi-colon. For most people, this is easier to do than trying to remember if you are using the mark correctly. It's probably why publishers prefer to not deal with them at all; it's easier for them if you just edit them out. What a shame. Semi-colons, when used correctly, can enhance someone's writing and improve the flow of their thoughts.


  6. My biggest punctuation 'sin' is the overuse of exclamation marks!

    Maybe it's the desire to control the sense and emphasis of my writing in the beholding of the reader, but I really must learn to let the words speak for themselves and if they are read with a different emphasis to my own intention there is nothing I can do about it!

    Just dropped in her voa the 'surprise me' button on the blog-hop.
    Happy A-Z'ing!

    SueH I refuse to go quietly!
    Twitter - @Librarymaid

  7. (I also have a tendency to hit 'publish' before I've checked my comment for typos!)

  8. LOL. Thanks for the comments :)