Read Write

Making the world smile, one muscle at a time


by Marrick on September 27, 2012

I learned something today.

Few writers use the semicolon properly these days, mostly because they don##Q##t know how or why it should be used. It##Q##s frequently confused with the colon and used as is as the grammatical equivalent of an equals sign, which is how you use a colon. By that, I mean what follows a colon is an expansion of what precedes it. An example of this is: "There is only one thing left to do now: confess while you still have time." Everything that precedes the colon can stand on its own as sentence. Everything after it expands on what actually is the one thing left to do and is itself an independent clause. The technical term for this is an “appositive phrase”.

Incidentally, you CAN use a capital after a colon – that##Q##s simply a matter of style preference. Headline writers do this all the time.

A semicolon has a completely different function: it is a strong comma. Its main function is to act as a comma between run-in lists like the next sentence. “The three most frequent colour schemes in flags are red, white, and blue; red and white; and, tied for third place, red, yellow, and green and red, white, and green.” It adds an emphatic separation of the various lists in the sentence.

The semicolon has a secondary function to sorting out confusing lists; it can be used to separate closely related independent clauses. The semicolon allows the writer to imply a relationship between nicely balanced ideas without actually stating that relationship. Generally, if you can put a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, yet, for, nor, so) in between the two phrases, you can use a semicolon. That doesn’t mean to say you can’t use both, it’s just that this case is extremely rare and used to make sense of complex and lengthy sentences.

You’ll thank me for this one day.

… And I will thank

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