No Love for the Semicolon? ;_;
Updated: Aug 1, 2019
My friends, we have a problem, and I don't think I can stand by it any longer.
Writers have been hating on the semicolon.
I overheard a writer friend of mine say "The semicolon is nothing but a pompous comma."
We laughed of course, but we clearly disagreed.
But seriously, what's up with this? Why?
What did this beautiful punctuation mark ever do to him?
Why does he think it looks pompous or pretentious?
Did the stickler Mr. Whatever brainwash him to avoid using it?
Or did he never learn about its full potential?
Well, if you've purposely neglected combining the shift key with the colon key, then it's time we had a little talk. If you are just unaware and have wandered to my neck of the digital woods – well then, come hither, my child, and let us speak together of the semicolon.
First, the semicolon can take the place of a period or a comma and is typically used to join two independent clauses. You've probably heard this before.
Those with a relentless spite towards semicolon use are thinking:
Then why not just use a comma with a coordinating conjunction or just a simple period? Why not just leave the two independent clauses separate? They be lone wolves, Ren!
That semicolon is just a pompous comma forcing an unnecessary union!
Chill. Relax. Listen.
When those independent clauses are directly correlated, the semicolon can explicitly show this relation better than a period (especially if you input a coordinating conjunction or conjunctive adverb after it); but it can also express a different tone and style than a period.
See what I did there?
A lone wolf will not seek the company of others; solitude is its only desire.
A lone wolf will not seek the company of others. Solitude is its only desire.
A semicolon loves attention; it's at the center of everything.
A semicolon loves attention. It's at the center of everything.
Any of these choices could work, but it would depend on a writer's personal preference.
Did you notice that the period created a more abrupt pause while the semicolon made the transition to the next clause shorter?
Depending on the context, understanding where to best input a semicolon can be a useful tool for strengthening prose. Of course, overuse can destroy its presence, so paying attention to where and how much you are using it in relation to the rest of the text is highly recommended.
The semicolon can also act as a sort of "super-comma". When items in a list contain commas, the semicolon can assist in distinguishing items from each other. It can also separate numbered or lettered items.
I have several pets: Beretta, my cat; Cricket, my dog; Bartholomew, my fish; and Mup, a dust bunny.
I have traveled to Atlanta, Georgia; Lake Charlevoix, Michigan; Orlando, Florida; St. Louis, Missouri; Santa Fe, New Mexico; Tuscon, Arizona; and New York, New York.
I have a process before I write: (A) make coffee or tea; (B) take a sip of said coffee or tea; (C) stare off into the distance; (D) randomly remember that asshole at work; (E) incorporate asshole into story in a humiliating way. Success! Now I can begin.
Without the semicolon, these lists would have been overwhelmingly messy.
The semicolon is awesome, and I greatly encourage their responsible use. Yeah, that's right! I'm talkin' about those overachievers who put them in every other sentence – stop it! Control thyself and strategize!