The Awesome Power of the Semi-Colon

Alright, I’m going to give you guys a grammar lesson this week. This has been an issue that’s bothered me for quite some time. The semi-colon is probably one of the most abused punctuations out there. I’ve seen it misused in anything from published best-selling novels to slash fan fiction. No one can escape the misusage of the semi-colon.

So what exactly is the semi-colon (or semicolon for some)? To put it simply, a semi-colon is a punctuation that separates two complete, but similar sentences. That’s it. That is what a semi-colon is. There are other uses for it, but when you get to the heart of the matter, all a semi-colon is used for is combining two sentences.

You have two fine, independent sentences. They can stand on their own (and they definitely don’t need no man), but when you join these two lovely sentences together, they enhance one another. Pretend it’s a relationship: you’re alright by yourself, but when you’re with someone, it’s a million times more awesome.

Example:

Sharks are bad for you.

Last year over 200 people died from shark poisoning.

Those are two separate sentences.

Now add a semi-colon and you get:

Sharks are bad for you; last year over 200 people died from shark poisoning.

Now can you use a semi-colon with a conjunction (but, and, so, nor, or, for and yet)?

According to The Oatmeal, no you can’t. But if you hop on over to the Grammar Monster, it’ll tell you that you can. So what’s the right answer? Well, Grammar Monster states it perfectly.

When a sentence made up of two independent clauses contains commas, it is possible to use a semicolon before a conjunction which joins the two independent clauses to outrank any commas in those clauses.

You can use a semi-colon on a conjunction (Sorry The Oatmeal). If the two sentences correlate and are independent, but conjoined by the conjunction, than you can replace your comma with a semi-colon. It should be noted (which Grammar Monster doesn’t state), is that following the conjunction, there should be a comma.

Example:

Sharks are bad for you, but, I can’t help love them.

This doesn’t really look right, does it? Well, replace the first comma with a semi-colon and you get:

Sharks are bad for you; but, I can’t help love them. (Ta-dah! Now you have a proper sentence)

So when exactly is it okay to use a semi-colon?

Pretty much anytime you have two related, but independent sentences. They can stand alone and form a coherent phrase, but when combined it enhances the meaning of both sentences. Two unrelated sentences cannot be smashed together by a semi-colon. I don’t know why people insist on doing this (here’s looking at you Lauren Oliver), but it happens.

So what other kinds of uses do semi-colons have?

Good question! The semi-colon is a rather powerful punctuation. Not only does it combine two related sentences together, but it can also work as a super comma. Pretty awesome, right?

So what exactly are the semi-colon’s super powers? Well, when you have a massive list which uses multiple commas (i.e. city and states), than a semi-colon can fit in to clarify everything.

Example:

I’ve been to Columbus, Ohio, Columbus, Georgia, Miami, Ohio, and Miami, Florida.

Right now we have a jumbled mess of cities and states. There are a few commas too many in this sentence, but how can we fix it?

The super comma (semi-colon)!

I’ve been to Columbus, Ohio; Columbus, Georgia; Miami, Ohio; and Miami, Florida.

With the semi-colon, it’s now clear which city goes with which state. The super comma can also be used for dates, people, and events.

It’s really not hard to use a semi-colon when you stop to think about it. Before placing a semi-colon in your sentence, ask yourself if it really works there.

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