Punctuation

The Semicolon: Love Child of the Comma and the Period

People are irrationally frightened of semicolons. I can understand being terrified of your mother and Pee Wee Herman, but semicolons? Pleeeze. These little guys wouldn't hurt a flea, even if they fell on it.

  • Use a semicolon between closely related independent clauses.
  • Example: Bigamy is one wife too many; monogamy is the same idea.
  • Use a semicolon between main clauses when the coordinating conjunction has been left out.
  • Example: She planned to dye her hair purple; however, the store was out of grape Jell-O so she decided to pierce her navel instead.
  • Use a semicolon to join independent clauses when one or both clauses contains a comma.
  • Example: After the sheep was cloned, the cows tried calling the tabloids; but they didn't get through.
  • Use a semicolon between main clauses connected by conjunctive adverbs such as however, nevertheless, moreover, for example, and consequently.
  • Example: Cloning sheep is a good idea; however, cloning ex-spouses, English teachers, or Freddy Kruger is not.
Take My Word for It

Place semicolons outside closing quotation marks. For example: We read “Tell-Tale Heart”; we refuse to sleep alone again.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Grammar and Style © 2003 by Laurie E. Rozakis, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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