Despite the many benefits it offers, the semicolon is often misunderstood—or even feared—and has become increasingly scarce in modern writing. In this installment of our Fearless Punctuation Series, we provide you with three easy ways that you can bring back the semicolon:
1) If you have two short stand-alone sentences that are related, or provide interesting contrast to one another, you may consider incorporating them into one sentence. Semicolons allow you to join independent clauses without using conjunctions (e.g., and, but, nor, yet).The following examples show instances when semicolons should, and should not, be used to connect clauses.
A coal transport recently grounded and spilled oil at a coral shoal along the Great Barrier Reef. Park officials and environmentalists are particularly concerned about negative impacts on hatching seabirds and turtles (AFP, 2010).
--Each of these statements can stand alone, but the ideas they contain are related. They can be combined, as shown below.
A coal transport recently grounded and spilled oil at a coral shoal along the Great Barrier Reef; park officials and environmentalists are particularly concerned about effects on hatching seabirds and turtles (AFP, 2010).
--Combining the two statements using a semicolon shows that they are connected.
Most climate models predict increased temperature and precipitation in the Pacific Northwest. These conditions may favor the spread of insects and pathogens affecting forests (van Mantgem et al., 2009)
--Each of these statements can stand alone, but the ideas they contain are related. They can be combined by using a semicolon or a conjunction, as shown below.
Most climate models predict increased temperature and precipitation in the Pacific Northwest, and these conditions may favor the spread of insects and pathogens affecting forests (van Mantgem et al., 2009).
--If a conjunction is used to connect two clauses, a comma should be used, rather than a semicolon.
Whole Foods Market offsets its total energy use through wind energy credits. All store locations have also discontinued the use of plastic grocery bags (Loftus, 2010).
--These two statements do not have an obvious connection. Eliminating plastic bags is not related to energy offsets, so it is best to leave these two sentences separate.
2) Semicolons can also help you to connect sentences with internal punctuation.
Due to public concern about habitat deterioration, a restoration project has been proposed along the Kissimmee River. The primary goal is to return flow to the floodplain (ACOE, 2010).
--These two sentences are related, and the period breaks the relationship between the clauses. They can be combined using a semicolon, as shown below.
Due to public concern about habitat deterioration, a restoration project has been proposed along the Kissimmee River; the primary goal is to return flow to the floodplain (ACOE, 2010).
--A semicolon is appropriate for connecting the two sentences. If a comma had been used, the sentence would have a comma splice error.
3) You may additionally use semicolons as super commas in your writing.
The United Nations operates offices throughout the globe, including in Nairobi, Kenya; Bankok, Thailand; Santiago, Chile; and Beirut, Lebanon.
--Use a semicolon if you are making a list of items separated with commas, such as locations, names, dates, or descriptions.
Note: If you are in doubt, reading aloud may help you to decide which punctuation is most appropriate.
Comma = brief pause
Semicolon = moderate pause
Period = full stop
A comical illustrated guide to semicolon usage is available at http://theoatmeal.com/comics/semicolon
Also, refer to Jane Straus’ online Blue Book of Grammer at http://www.grammarbook.com/
[ACOE] US Army Corps of Engineers. (2010). Kissimmee River Restoration. Retrieved April 19, 2010, from http://www.saj.usace.army.mil/Divisions/Everglades/Branches/ProjectExe/Sections/UECKLO/KRR.htm
[AFP] Agence France-Presse. (2010). Great Barrier Reef oil spill hits renowned nature sanctuary. Retrieved April 14, 2010, from http://www.grist.org/article/2010-04-14-great-barrier-reef-oil-spill-hits-renowned-nature-sanctuary/
Hacker, D. (1999). A Writer’s Reference. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s.
Loftus, K. (2010). Our earth day commitment. Retrieved April 14, 2010, from http://blog.wholefoodsmarket.com/category/green-action/
van Mantgem, P.J., Stephenson, N.L., Byrne, J.C. Daniels, L.D., Franklin, J.F., Fule, P.Z., Harmon, M.E., Larson, A.J., Smith, J.M., Taylor, A.H. & Veblen, T.T. (2009). Widespread increase of tree mortality rates in the western United States. Science, 323, 521-524.