When do I use a semi-colon? Writing & Grammar

Hello everyone:

Oh, those semi-colons! I’ve seen students who wrote one word (However; this is not a good thing) and dumped a semi-colon into the sentence immediately. That’s not the way to go, folks.

Others students use them to connect partial sentences with other partial sentences (A dog; came down the road; to fetch.) Nope. No matter how tempting it is to fill in the blanks in your sentence with the charming semi-colon, please resist.

So where in the world DO they belong? For starters, they make a great addition to a situation where you have two perfectly good, but short, related sentences. That is, the two sentences are about the same topic and are right next to one another, but they look a bit lonesome. Here’s an example:

My parents are both living in Florida; they like the year-round warm weather.

By themselves, the sentences are fine and dandy but together they are much stronger. Their structure is less choppy; they take your writing to a higher level.

They also belong where you have a bunch of things in the same sentence but there are commas in the bunches. Here’s an example of that:

The deceased is survived by Sarah Jennings, of New York City; John Jennings, of Nashville, Tennessee; and Paul Jennings, of Baltimore, Maryland.

Yes, that is an obituary example. I thought you were dying to see it. (Just kidding here.)

Here’s a less morbid example:

I am taking several things to the gym, including my red, white, and blue running shoes; my purple, blue, and gold T-shirt; and my aqua, yellow, and white shorts. (Please note that you would clash with yourself, but I digress.)

I hope this helps you see semi-colons in a different light; they really are wonderful punctuation markers.

Best,

Dr. Sheri


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Sheri Dean Parmelee has a Ph.D. in Communication Studies from Regent University. She writes books on practical tips for people who become unexpectedly unmarried and is working on her second novel in a series of contemporary romance/suspense novels. She teaches at three colleges, working with students from freshmen to graduate students. Her hobbies include running 8 miles a day and reading biographies and fiction.

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