Grammar is something many people have trouble understanding. Even people who love grammar, like myself, have some rules they just can’t seem to get right. Some of my readers have shared their grammar struggles with me. For this second part of my grammar series I will be discussing semicolons.
Semicolons are a punctuation marks that everyone has seen but many don’t quite know
when they are supposed to be used. This leads many people to use them incorrectly or just forego them completely.
According to Google, a semicolon “indicates a pause, typically between two main clauses, that is more pronounced than that indicated by a comma.”
So, what does that mean? How do you know when you need a pause that is more pronounced? And what are clauses again?
An independent clause is a part of your sentence containing a subject and predicate that could stand alone as its own sentence. It is possible to have two independent clauses in one sentence. If you do, you may want to use the handy semicolon. A simple way to check if you need or want a semicolon is to write the clauses separated by a semicolon and then by a period. For example:
The boy went to the planetarium; he wanted to see the stars.
The boy went to the planetarium. He wanted to see the stars.
Either way is correct. Since there is a complete sentence on either side of the punctuation, it works. You just need to decide how long you want the pause to be. Remember, a comma shows where a brief pause should be taken. A period denotes a full stop. A semicolon is in between. If you don’t want a complete stop between telling the reader that the boy went to the planetarium and why he went to the planetarium, the semicolon is the punctuation for you.
Note: When using semicolons, make sure the clauses you are connecting are closely related.
Another example, using a transitional expression (however, thus, consequently, nevertheless, etc.) between the clauses:
The writer wanted to write well; thus, she learned how to use semicolons.
Another reason for semicolons is when you are making a list and need commas as part of the listed items. This makes the semicolon act as a “supercomma.” A common use for this is when listing places.
The contestants for the Cheese Rolling competition were from Disco, Tennessee; Why, Arizona; Whynot Mississppi; and Loafers Glory, North Carolina; as well as many other towns.
Semicolons can be tricky and they are not right in every situation. Make sure you are not overusing them. A sign of good punctuation is when the reader does not notice it. Keep the semicolons for the sentences that really need it and wow your readers with your clever usage.
Hopefully these tips will help you traverse the (not so)scary grammatical world. If you have other grammar struggles you would like to learn more about, let me know in the comments below.