Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Grammar Tip For A Wednesday - The SEMI-COLON

I am someone who really loves this punctuation mark. The semi colon ROCKS! as far as I am concerned. Unfortunately, far too many people have no idea how to use the semi-colon, and I fear, this is one of the reasons why so many editors try to get people to avoid using it. Not that it doesn't work in the writing, but the editors simply don't want to spend the time teaching the writers how to use it correctly. I will also add that if you are someone who seriously uses your grammar checker, MSWord frequently recommends using a semi-colon when it is probably not the right place.

So, for all of you, here is your brief grammar lesson for the day.

Let's begin with the basics. If you notice, a semi-colon is made up of a period and a common. This is important for the first part of the usage.

When we use a period in our writing, we are separating two sentences. The same goes for a semi-colon. You have to insure that the phrase before the semi-colon is an independent clause (i.e. a sentence) and the phrase after the semi colon is also an independent clause (also a sentence). This means that there is a subject and predicate on either side.

The second part of the semi-colon is a comma. This means that it is connecting together two ideas that need to be combined. This, however needs to be more than simply a connection of the same topic. This is an idea concept. I always like to think that there is a relationship between the two ideas and separating them with a period simply weakens the thought, but bringing the ideas together really enhances the message.

Now, here is one more twist. The second clause after the semi-colon may or may not include a transition word or phrase. I am personally someone who believes if you are going to use a semi-colon, you add the phrase to show the connection between the two thoughts. These can be things such as however, on the other hand, furthermore and so on. As I said, though, you can just skip the phrase, but personally, if you are going to do that, I would simply recommend using a period.

It is this last point that the grammar checkers tend to recommend putting in a semi-colon. The programs sees words in the sentence that seem to suggest a subject and a predicate in the beginning and a subject and predicate in the end of the sentence. Remember, though, the computer cannot read so it has no idea if those are connected together.

If you feel your writing is choppy due to a lot of shorter sentences, using a semi-colon may add to the fluency of your writing.

Hope this one helps! If you want more information on these, check out my favorite grammar book, A WRITER'S REFERENCE 


  1. I love semi-colons and use them whenever appropriate in my NF writing, but I've been told not to use them in my romance novels. What are your thoughts on that?