Top Punctuation Howlers – The Semicolon

Is it a Colon? Is it a Comma? No, it’s a Semicolon!

Do you feel inclined to join two independent clauses with – GASP – a comma?

Stop the presses! This isn’t a job for a comma; this is a job for the semicolon.

The Villainous Comma Splice

In case you’re not familiar with the comma splice, here’s the lowdown on this common error. A comma splice occurs when an author joins two complete sentences. For example:

The Comma Splice was last seen fleeing the crime scene, Super Semicolon was hot in pursuit. (Wrong)

A semicolon can be deployed to save the sentence:

The Comma Splice was last seen fleeing the crime scene; Super Semicolon was hot in pursuit. (Correct)

You may be thinking: “Why not just use a period?” When periods and commas can usually handle the job, the semicolon is overlooked. However, the semicolon can add a little style and clarity as well as offer a greater advantage when conveying balance or contrast.

Discover how you can use the semicolon with these tips!

Separate Independent Clauses

Semicolons are used to separate two independent clauses when a period is too strong.

Sit down. I’ll make the coffee.
This command appears very serious and implies conflict.

Sit down; I’ll make the coffee.
This command is softened and implies generosity, i.e. “Don’t trouble yourself; I’ve got this.”

Conjunctive Adverbs

Semicolons can spice up conjunctive adverbs (e.g. accordingly, consequently, however, etc.) when used transitionally between clauses of a compound sentence.

We all agree the Comma Splice should be banned; however, we don’t have the funds to eradicate it.

Quotation Marks

Semicolons should occur outside quotation marks and parentheses.

She sardonically called him “The Graceful Trapeze Artist”; he never could stay on his feet.

Complicated Series

Semicolons can also step in to help clarify a series when it’s too intense for commas. More specifically, semicolons separate elements of a series when the items of the series are longer or set off by commas. Semicolons shouldn’t be used in the presence of a coordinating conjunction (e.g. and, but, for, etc.) unless there is extensive punctuation required in one or more individual clauses.

Attending the Tattoo Convention were ten tenacious bikers from South Dakota; eight pretentious hipsters from Seattle; three barbershop quartet singers singing “I get a kick from champagne”; six males and four females going through a mid-life-crisis; and seven blond bombshells with tattoos on their lower backs.

The contestants of the sauerkraut-eating championship came from Munich, Germany; Germantown, Wisconsin; Warsaw, Poland; Cairo, Egypt; and Tijuana, Mexico.

Use these semicolon tips to strengthen your writing skills, as well as maintain your credibility as an Expert Author. We will have more punctuation howlers coming up in the next few weeks, so stop by the Blog for the latest and greatest tips to error-free articles.

Did you miss our last edition of Top Punctuation Howlers? Find out more about the colon here!

43 Comments »


1
Ulki Goswami writes:

Sometimes we forget what we learnt in school. A very good reminder article.

Comment provided August 1, 2012 at 9:27 AM

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Gary Jacobsen writes:

“Learnt”? Oh please.

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Ulki Goswami writes:

Hi Gary,

What’s wrong with “learnt”?

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Edmund Sykes writes:

I suppose Gary would rather write learned but my Collins dictionary says learnt.

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Lee writes:

Ulki, Sorry, but when most use the “new” word “learnt”; it sounds like a redneck from the hills to me.
“My Daddy learnt me how to read and write!” See? That sounds like a Jeff Foxworthy statement.
I am 52 and have never heard this ridiculous word until the last 5 years! Just sounds wrong and silly at the same time!
Much like when I hear the younger kids that mean to express how “cool” something was is now exclaimed as “sick”which sounds as foreign to my ear as silly as”learnt” does!
I don’t care if it is in the dictionary;ever since they have listed the word “chillax”in the Collins dictionary I have lost respect for these “hip” updates and do not use them or acknowledge them as formal English! You “feel” me? Word. Now I’ll just go Chillax and watch Jeopardy again; cause I learnt some new things from it yesterday and it was sick!

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Ulki Goswami writes:

Sorry for commenting about “learnt” on a blog post on “semicolons”. My comment is in response to Gary, Edmund and Lee’s comments. Thanks for talking about it. Your comments made me do a brief research on the difference between “learnt” and “learned”.

English is spoken and written in different ways across the world. There is UK English, US English, Australian English, South African English, and so on. Just a look at the language options in Microsoft Word will give you an idea.

While the use of a particular word may be acceptable in a country, it may be totally wrong in another country. For example, the word “upgradation” is used by Asian countries, but not in other parts of the world. So, as an Asian and an Indian, it is fine if I use the word “upgradation” in a comment in a blog. But it will definitely not be the right choice if I use it in an article for an American website.

The following headlines in EzineArticles indicate that “learnt” is accepted by the editors of this website. All of them are written by non-American writers.
1. Web and Graphic Design – How I Learnt Everything for Free With One Word (Australian writer)
2. Internet Marketing Lessons I Learnt From Grandma (Canadian writer)
3. Are Others Eating Your Lunch – Or – Have You Learnt to Say “NO”? (South African writer)

An excerpt from the Ezine Blog commenting policy: “We use American English as our standard, but will normally allow all variations of ENGLISH words in this blog, provided that they are spelled properly in your native English dialect.”

The following forum discussion on Urch would be very enlightening for all my friends who are wondering whether they should use “learnt” or “learned”: urch. com/ forums/ english/ 9214- learned-vs-learnt. html

I completely agree that “learnt” doesn’t have the right “feel” about it for American readers, but it’s perfectly right for the rest of the world.
…………………………………………………….. ……………………………………………………..
Lee, I would write the following sentence “My Daddy learnt me how to read and write!” as “My Daddy taught me how to read and write!”.

Thanks for sharing about the way “sick” and “cool” is used by kids in USA. I really like to learn about the differences in way people write and speak across the world. It’s astonishing to know how the same word changes meaning from country to country!

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Edmund Sykes writes:

Where I grew up in Dorset (West Country) in England, “That’ll learn ‘im” meant “That will teach him” and I am talking 1970s. I understand why the spelling is so important in a book but blog comments are thrown out with speed. Can someone tell me why learned can also be pronounced as “the professor was a very learned (learnd) man” and thus destroy “learnt” as a spelling? Personally, I use learned but, as I understand learnt, I don’t think it worth the argument.

I love this debate but we are in danger of going down a side-track where we can argue whether the rear luggage compartment of a car is a trunk or a boot. However, keep the comments coming!

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Lee writes:

Ulki, You are very polite and I appreciate your reply! Good going and take care, Lee

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2
JoeTranscriber writes:

She sardonically called him “The Graceful Trapeze Artist”; he never could stay on his feet.

This is a very useful tip. Great stuff… Thanks.

Comment provided August 1, 2012 at 9:39 AM

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3
CH James writes:

Comma splices are one of the most maddening errors readers encounter. At least to me, it hurts an author’s credibility if he or she can’t avoid them. It’s like hitting construction on the highway – you’re cruising along through an article when all of a sudden, you have to hit the brakes and slowly trudge through the work zone that, in this case, is the confusing and hard-to-read splice.

Comment provided August 1, 2012 at 9:50 AM

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Edmund Sykes writes:

As you read, there are pauses that are required in any paragraph. A comma (,) is a very short pause; a period or full stop (.) is a longer pause; so somewhere in-between is the comma splice or semicolon (;).

It is all designed to guide the written word into spoken English by the mouth or the brain of the reader. Legible messages can be sent by SMS TXT but they are unlikely to be good reading for a book or an article.

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Edmund Sykes writes:

Sorry, thought that comma splice was American for semicolon. Now know better, not a description I had come across before.

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4
Gary Jacobsen writes:

Excellent article about semicolons; however, I’m not sure that amateur writers know what a clause is.

Comment provided August 1, 2012 at 9:51 AM

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Edgar Allen writes:

Since I’m an amateur, I’m aware of the Santa Clause. Not too sure about sarcasm.

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5
Opal writes:

The semi-colon can be used very well as a way to vary sentence structure so that your writing piece does not bog down with short, jerky sentences; sentences will continue smoothly to present the message you want to present. I think this blog is helpful to the amateur writer, as wll as the seasoned writer; it just isn’t used much.

Comment provided August 1, 2012 at 10:04 AM

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6
Kristen Kramer writes:

LOVE THIS! I’m always correcting comma splices! Couldn’t wait to share this; thank you for posting!

Comment provided August 1, 2012 at 10:22 AM

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7
Edmund Sykes writes:

Dear Penny, normally I have something to say about your posts but there is nothing to say about this one except “brilliant”; I certainly could not have done better myself. Edmund

Comment provided August 1, 2012 at 10:23 AM

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8
Samuel Bani Dauda writes:

Excellent blog Penny. You have done a good job by taking us to class room again days. Thanks.

Comment provided August 1, 2012 at 10:47 AM

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9

I LOVE this! I have always wondered about the infamous semicolon. Thanks!

Comment provided August 1, 2012 at 11:21 AM

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10
Phillips Hardy writes:

Penny, I consider this to be one of the most helpful articles yet. I have always wondered if I was using the semicolon correctly. Your article clarified this very succinctly.

Comment provided August 1, 2012 at 11:50 AM

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11
Gary Jacobsen writes:

It is interesting–at least to me–that many contributors to this blog are using semicolons unnecessarily, perhaps to show–what? Their blog comments would be better if the writers dropped their semicolons and substituted periods.

Do you doubt the truth of this statement? Rewrite a few of the blog comments and see for yourself.

Comment provided August 1, 2012 at 11:54 AM

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12
Denise Rutledge writes:

Excellent refresher. I tend to lean toward short, punchy sentences. The tip on using the semi colon to soften the message from brusk to friendly is something I never thought of before.

I’ll be using those semi-colons more often!

Comment provided August 1, 2012 at 11:55 AM

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13
Tom Fuszard writes:

Hallelujah! Finally someone lowers the boom on the dreaded – and hated – comma splices. EzineArticles.com isn’t the only place this problem shows up. Check out Facebook posts.

I’d like to add an item to your section on quotation marks. If the phrase in quotation marks is part of a question, the question mark goes OUTSIDE the quotation marks. (See Gary Jacobsen’s comment in this thread.) If the phrase or term is at the end of the sentence, writers often tuck the question mark inside the quote marks. No!

Thanks for the column, Penny. Let’s hope it does some good.

Comment provided August 1, 2012 at 3:03 PM

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14
Opal writes:

I purposely used semicolons in my previous comment as a fun way to show how they can help wiriters to vary their sentence structure and syntax; some sentences short and sweet and some long and informative.
Kat might have said “help to stop corruption” or help to fight corruption”. To evade means to get around something and I think she doesn’t mean that at all,when I read the context of her comment.

Comment provided August 1, 2012 at 3:31 PM

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15
Claude Nougat writes:

Very useful, thanks! I’ve always hated the ; like everyone else, but I can see its uses :) ! Can’t wait to read your next post…and benefit from it; yeah!

Comment provided August 1, 2012 at 4:53 PM

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Edmund Sykes writes:

Shouldn’t that be ;) ?

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16
Randall Magwood writes:

For someone who writes alot, i have very poor grammar lol (i hate to admit it). But i’m glad i stumbled onto this blog post and learned about using the semicolon – to help me out when writing my future articles.

Comment provided August 1, 2012 at 5:13 PM

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17

I’m still laughing, Penny!(As well as learning).

What a very elegant way of reminding writers about
grammar.

Comment provided August 1, 2012 at 5:21 PM

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18
Vincent E Martinelli writes:

I love this post! I couldn’t have done it so politely.

Comment provided August 1, 2012 at 9:17 PM

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19
Erdin Halil writes:

Good read,

Thanks

Comment provided August 2, 2012 at 12:12 PM

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20
Vijay Mishra writes:

Yes, this article has been written very carefully by penny, very good information has been given by penny about comma, semicolon and quotation Marks.

Comment provided August 3, 2012 at 12:56 AM

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21
George writes:

I’ve never read these blog posts before, but I get the emails and periodically look at them.

This one caught my attention though; I love semicolons and try to use them as much as possible.

Thanks for the great article!

Comment provided August 3, 2012 at 3:42 AM

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22
Edmund Sykes writes:

Here is a typical sentence from one of the most famous writers, Marcel Proust, (in translation):

She alone could understand what I was feeling; certainly her young footman was not the person to do so; for him, who was as unlike the Combray type as it was possible to conceive, packing up, moving, living in another district, were all like taking a holiday in which the novelty of one’s surroundings gave one the same sense of refreshment as if one had actually travelled; he thought he was in the country; and a cold in the head afforded him, as though he had been sitting in a draughty railway carriage, the delicious sensation of having seen the world; at each fresh sneeze he rejoiced that he had found so smart a place, having always longed to be with people who travelled a lot.

Does that explain it?

Comment provided August 3, 2012 at 7:07 AM

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23
Opal Marrs writes:

Edmund, your posting is an exact example of sentence structure or syntax as I was pointing out in my previous posting above. Difference in sentence structure can add excitement and description to an author’s writing. I hope
some of those who have commented on this little-used punctuation mark will pay attention to Marcel’s sentence structure and his use of commas as well. If we read the example sentences aloud, pausing where and how the sentences tell us to pause and how long,, we can see how distinctly he presents his information. I like the posting. And I think we learn from each other by our comments.

Comment provided August 3, 2012 at 11:55 AM

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24
Rhonda Woodworth-Tardif writes:

Love this post. I’ve never heard the semicolon explained so well.

My pet peeve is the lack of commas. They add so much clarity, but are in danger of becoming extinct. It saves one from having to reread a sentence to see what the writer meant.

I enjoy your articles.

Comment provided August 4, 2012 at 9:39 PM

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25
Jean Kearsley writes:

This may seem a little off point, but your newsletter asked what punctuation howlers we’d like to see next, and invited one and all to share such suggestions by comments to this post. Okay, here goes!

Sixty years of personal usage and every written source I’ve accessed, from Strunk & White to the AP Style Guide, all advise that the Latin terms “i.e.” (id est) and “e.g.” (exempi gratia), when used in parenthetical expressions, should be followed by commas. In the newsletter/blog on semicolons above, while each term was correctly used – in itself a breath of fresh air! – neither was followed by the appropriate punctuation. Also, the illustration for “e.g.” includes the unnecessary use of “etc.” following the list of three examples — sort of a Latin “Department of Redundancies Department”.

What I’m suggesting here is that the admirable string of nuts-‘n’-bolts advice columns you’ve run — on misspelled words, grammar & punctuation howlers, etc. — would be well matched by one (or more) on our friends, the Latin expressions we all sprinkle throughout our writing. While their inclusion is ostensibly to increase the precision/concision of our prose — sloppy usage and indifferent punctuation work to rob them of those functions, and our work of credibility.

Even a cursory sampling of articles on file with EzineArticles shows an embarrassing plethora of confusions & conflations twixt “i.e.” and “e.g.”, “etc.” and “et al.”, not to mention the rest of the Latin (and other foreign language) menagerie. So how about it, Penny? Can you help us all learn how to be better Latin lovers?

Comment provided August 7, 2012 at 2:40 PM

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Ulki Goswami writes:

Agree with Jean. There should be an article on this topic. Sometimes we forget what is the right usage of a Latin word or punctuation just because we see misuse of it on a regular basis. Looking forward to an article on Latin word usage :)

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Edmund Sykes writes:

Excellent Jean, I never knew the rule of putting a comma after the Latin abreviations so I went to the Economist Style Guide and this confirms it. However it suggests using eg, ie, without the full stop (period). What do you think?

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26
Jean Kearsley writes:

As both Ulki and Edmund have alluded to above, I think this may be sort of a “trunk/boot” problem — or, more aptly, “curb/kerb”, since it’s more a matter of transliteration than of translation. Since I’m more concerned with maintaining consistency within the context of American English, I think I’ll stick with the periods, full stop!

After acting/directing in a number of British murder mysteries and bedroom farces over the years, put on for the American stage with the best “accents” we could muster, I thought I was fairly conversant with what I saw as the essential distinctions between American English and “that other one.” Then I started listening regularly to BBC World, and came to a fuller realization of Ulki’s point about ALL the language’s variant, each of which has a place under the sun — that “sun which never sets,” if you will. To paraphrase Churchill, the English-speaking (and — even more, writing) nations comprise a great commonwealth, ‘divided by a common language’.

So, by all means, if/when EzineArticles embarks on an effort to corral the useful snippets of that FIRST near-universal language, Latin, it should include any variants between the AP and Economist style guides’ versions. Keep us honest on that, Edmund.

Comment provided August 8, 2012 at 11:12 AM

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27
Edmund Sykes writes:

Hi Jean. I am buying the AP guide now but it does seem to be old and language adapts. I always thought that e.g. was correct but eg, does not seem too bad to me.

You are the only person who has made me feel ignorant since I spelled (or should that be spelt) demesne as domain when I was 18!

Also, I think that “The sun never sets on the British Empire” was published well before the birth of Winston Churchill.

I am in awe of you, really!

Comment provided August 8, 2012 at 11:59 AM

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Jean Kearsley writes:

Edmund ~
True, that concept of “the sun which never sets” traces as far back as the ancient Persian Empire, while its application to the British one goes back to the late 18th or early 19th century. However, it wasn’t that, but the second quotation above that I was attributing to our (half-American, remember?) dear Winnie.

I will gladly do penance for the latter, though. Five minutes research on the ‘net would have told me the quotation about England’s and America’s tongue[s?] has been attributed to everyone from Wilde to Shaw to Twain to Bertrand Russell… but not, conspicuously, to Winston Churchill. Evidently, my appreciation for his mastery of the “essential nobility of the English sentence” led me to attribute this trenchant observation to him as well.

On point: some American literary wag once ventured the estimate that if Mark Twain and Abraham Lincoln actually uttered all the aphorisms credited to them, they’d have to have lived to twice their ages, nattering away 24/7!

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28
patricia gaines writes:

Critical points I learned years ago but have forgotten. These lessons are invaluable Perhaps if I keep studying, I will one day get it “right”
Thank You

Comment provided October 29, 2012 at 11:49 AM

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29
Alain writes:

I am an amateur writer and English is my third language (after Spanish and French). I find it that I am in doubt all the time. Should I use this or that?

Your article was very helpful. Thank you very much.

Comment provided November 29, 2012 at 11:28 AM

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