You’re not using semicolons; you should.

 

Let’s say you wrote a friendly letter to your boss, and upon rereading it before you drop it in the mailbox, you notice something amiss:

You smell like an elephant’s butt, an elephant’s butt would actually be a better boss.

Oh, no! That comma separates two complete sentences without a conjunction (and, but, or, so) after it. This sentence is a run-on; it’s a good thing you caught it.

Have no fear; it’s easily fixable. You don’t need to erase or cross anything out; you don’t need to cram in the word “and” after the comma. Simply turn that comma into a semicolon by adding one simple, tiny dot above it.

You smell like an elephant’s butt; an elephant’s butt would actually be a better boss.

Suddenly, your major grammar faux pas has been transformed into a more sophisticated, enlightened sentence. Your boss will be impressed; I guarantee it.

Kurt Vonnegut once famously wrote, “Do not use semicolons… All they do is show you’ve been to college.” That’s not true; they may show you’ve taken Mr. Marano’s seventh-grade English class, and in a few minutes, they’ll show you’ve read Mr. Marano’s blog.

In its simplest form, a semicolon’s job is to connect two related sentences. Seeing a semicolon end a sentence is no cause for alarm; it simply means the second sentence is closely related to the first.

Take a look back at all the semicolons used so far in this blog; you’ll notice a few things that each use has in common.

  1. Two separate sentences are connected; both sentences could stand alone as independent clauses.
  2. There is no conjunction next to the semicolon; there is only the next sentence.
  3. The second sentence starts with a lower-case letter; this is why a semicolon is such a perfect fix for a comma splice.
  4. A semicolon can’t replace a comma; each has its own discrete purpose.
  5. Most importantly, the two sentences are closely related to each other; the second one wouldn’t make as much sense without the first one.

There are other uses for a semicolon, but that’s a topic for another time. For now, just know there’s nothing particularly fancy or convoluted about it, and you can use it skillfully with just a little practice.

Just don’t overdo it; nobody likes that.


The Syracuse Pen provides writing and editing services for students, professionals and small businesses. Visit our home page for more information about what we can do for you.

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