How to Use the Semi-colon

No punctuation mark gets as widely neglected or abused as much as the poor misunderstood semi-colon. Writers who avoid using it in a misguided attempt of a ‘if I ignore it, it doesn’t exist’ sort of scenario are just as guilty as writers who misuse it as an alternative to the comma.

Using a semi-colon the way it was created is not rocket science; the semi-colon is easy to use once you understand its purpose.

See what happened there? I wrote two independent clauses. Both of them could have stood on their own as being complete sentences. However, by using a semi-colon between the two, I illustrated the connected meaning and emphasized the continuation of my thoughts through the two clauses by connecting them with a semi-colon.

This is what the semi-colon is all about. It’s a signal that the forthcoming clause directly relates to the one preceding it.

The Semi-colon’s Place in Your Writing Style

Writers who write short, snappy, easy to understand sentences tend to be the ones who think that they have little use for the semi-colon.

They tend to believe that the semi-colon serves the needs of writers who write in run-on, lengthy sentences and need to use it to break up their sentences into easily-understood phrases. They’re absolutely wrong in their assessment of the semi-colons purpose. Take these short, snappy clauses as an example:

My car is in the shop; I’ll be walking this week.

The two clauses are parts of a single thought and statement. They could be connected by the words ‘and so’, but a semi-colon does the job more succinctly and preserves the flow of the idea much better. If your goal is to write short, impactful sentences, learn to use the semi-colon.

Write like a Professional

A lot of writers would use a comma instead of a semi-colon between those clauses; the majority of readers wouldn’t know the difference. However, if your aim is to write professionally, you’ll be submitting your work to an experienced editor. A trained editor would spot the incorrect use of the comma immediately; it wouldn’t reflect well on your assertion that you’re a ‘professional’ writer.

If you’re writing on behalf of a company, the incorrect use of punctuation is a definite no-no as it reflects poorly on the company. You’re writing as the voice of the company. You owe it to the company (as well as your own reputation) to know how every punctuation mark should be used.

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