A guide to using semicolons
(And to answer that no, the proper use of a semicolon is not for a winky face.)
Do you have more than two, three, semicolons in that one page write up your professor made you write for history? If you answered yes chances are you don’t need to use a semicolon for some of those sentences.
So why does everyone do it? What’s the misconception?
There it is! People often link sentences together because they believe they fit together. In reality, a semicolon is a subtle way of connecting closely related ideas when a style mark stronger than a comma is needed. By using semicolons effectively, you can make your writing sound more sophisticated. The clause following a semicolon often restates an idea expressed in the first clause; it sometimes expands on or presents a contrast to the first. (See what I did there?) Ok,maybe not. Here is another example:
Immigration acts were passed; newcomers had to provide, besides moral correctness and financial solvency, their ability to read.
–Mary Gordon, “ More Than Just a Shrine”
This semicolon gives the sentence an abrupt rhythm that suits the topic.
So is it that simple; is that really all there is to it?
Nope. In fact, I probably didn’t need to use a semicolon for the sentence above!.
Semicolon Rules and Conventions
Use a semicolon to:
- Link two independent clauses to connect closely related ideas. An independent clause is a sentence that contains a subject and a predicate, and it either stands alone or could stand alone. But be careful not to misuse it. Generally speaking, where you can use a comma instead of a semicolon you should.
Example: The math exam will be difficult and extensive; the exam will cover topics starting from section 1.2 to sections 3.8.
2. Link clauses connected by conjunctive adverbs or transitional phrases to connect closely related ideas. (Conjunctive adverbs indicate a connection between 2 independent clauses in one sentence. Or they may link the ideas in 2 or more sentences. Or they may show relationships between ideas within an independent clause. Examples include also, however, otherwise, consequently, indeed, similarly, finally, likewise, then, furthermore, moreover, therefore, hence, nevertheless, nonetheless.)
Example: Bring any two items; however, sleeping bags and tents are in short supply.
3. Link lists where the items contain commas to avoid confusion between list items.
Example: I have been to Newcastle, Carlisle, and York in the North; Bristol, Exeter, and Portsmouth in the South; and Cromer, Norwich, and Lincoln in the East.
4. If there is no coordinating conjunction do not use a comma. Instead use a semicolon.
5. Do not use a semicolon where a comma does the job.
Here is my piece of advice to you. DO NOT OVERUSE THE SEMICOLON. It is a delicate tool that when overused takes away its significance. Generally speaking if you can
make it two sentences you should, but when they are closely related and make a killer sentence, go for it! By Using Semicolons Effectively, You Can Make Your Writing Sound More Sophisticated.
Sources: “Using Semicolons.” Grammar and Punctuation:. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Oct. 2016.