Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Oh, the Semicolon!

Strunk and White’s “Elementary Rules of Usage” rule #5 (Do not join independent clauses by a comma) states, “If two or more independent clauses grammatically complete and not joined by a conjunction are to form a single compound sentence, the proper mark of punctuation is a semicolon.”

How many of you apply this rule correctly?

I read an entertaining blog post today at The Blood Red Pencil. The author calls the semicolon her new love and encourages its use. Ugh! No, no, no! While the semicolon is a valid piece of grammar, and proper usage of it can produce powerful prose, overuse and misuse of this miniscule mark more often than not result in sloppy structure.

Too often writers use a semicolon to “fancy up” their manuscripts. Maybe they get bored with commas, or perhaps they think periods are too finite. The semicolon is delicate. It signals a pause to the reader; it says stop here a bit longer than a comma, but not as permanently as a period. It provides a brief break or a subtle change in thought without taking the reader in a completely new direction. It’s like taking a breath.

Semicolons should be used sparingly. Sometimes adverbs like however, therefore, or besides follow a semicolon to begin the second clause, but never, ever, ever follow a semicolon with a conjunction. My advice? When in doubt, terminate the first clause with a period and begin a new sentence.


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This sums it up ;)

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