The Semicolon

And you thought this would be boring!

The proper usage of commas and semicolons eludes most; myself included at times. One of my favourite resources for writing, citation, and punctuation rules is The Online Writing Lab at Purdue University. The OWL, as many call it, contains thorough resources for anyone who wants or needs to improve their writing. How thorough? The subject of comma usage alone occupies several pages! Commas aren’t the only punctuation game in town: at some point you’ll need to move on to other ways to pause or interject in your writing. This is where the semicolon may come in handy.

There are many rules for semicolon usage, but the following may represent the three most common (with thanks to my Office Admin colleagues at the college for extra impetus and ideas):

  1. Use a semicolon to separate two closely related, but independent clauses. Example: Cindy’s train arrives at midnight; Jerry will pick her up.
  2. Use a semicolon in sentences that do have conjunctions, but where commas are already in use. Example: I asked my best friend, Cynthia, if she was going to the practice run tomorrow; and after thinking about it, she told me she would.
  3. Use a semicolon to help you with grouping. Suppose you were talking about your road trip, and wanted to list both cities and states? Example: During last summer’s vacation in the United States, we visited Boston, Massachusetts; Elizabeth, New York; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 

Punctuation can be one of the more demanding tasks when it comes to writing; my transcription students remind me of this every week in class! With resources like the OWL, or if you’re fortunate enough to have a copy,The Gregg Reference Manual, you can get through this!

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