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Fine-Tuning 20, Semicolons

 
 
Roberta
 
Reply Thu 4 Sep, 2003 01:38 pm
Semicolons serve two purposes:

1. They separate two independent clauses that are not linked by a conjunction.

You sit on the couch; I'll sit on the floor.

If a conjunction were used, the semicolon would give way to a comma:

You sit on the couch, and I'll sit on the floor.

These two clauses could also be two separate sentences:

You sit on the couch. I'll sit on the floor.

Sometimes an em dash (two hyphens) can replace the semicolon:

You sit on the couch--I'll sit on the floor.

This is a less formal approach.

The following words are considered adverbs and should be preceded by a semicolon when they are used to link two clauses of a compound sentence.

however, therefore, thus, then, hence, indeed, accordingly, besides

You prefer to sit on the couch; however, I prefer to sit on the floor.

These clauses can be two separate sentences. It it considered preferable, but not essential, to move the adverb to the inside of the second sentence.

You prefer to sit on the couch. I, however, prefer to sit on the floor.

Semicolons may precede expressions such as namely, that is, and for example (e.g.) when the writer wants a bigger break than a comma can provide.

Check to make sure that you have all the ingredients called for in the recipe before you go to the supermarket; for example, if a recipe requires six eggs, see how many eggs you have on hand before you step out the door.

2. Semicolons separate listed items that have internal punctuation.

The three fruit baskets contained the followed: peaches, pears, and plums; apples, oranges, and bananas; and mangos and papayas.
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roger
 
  1  
Reply Thu 4 Sep, 2003 02:21 pm
I knew that. Except for the last example, that is.
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Walter Hinteler
 
  1  
Reply Thu 4 Sep, 2003 02:34 pm
I always thaught
a) semicolons weren't used that much in English,
b) when, with nearly the same rules as in German.

Thus, I didn't think of but knew Roberta's second point, too :wink:
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Craven de Kere
 
  1  
Reply Thu 4 Sep, 2003 02:34 pm
Hmm, Roberta, do you plan to address serial commas?
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Roberta
 
  1  
Reply Thu 4 Sep, 2003 02:45 pm
Roger, So you learned something! Yessss.

Walter, You're right. Semicolons aren't used in English as much as they used to be. But they still serve a purpose.

Craven, Serial commas were discussed on another thread. I'd be happy to discuss them again.

A serial comma is the comma that separates the items in a list (or series) from the final conjunction.

The basket contains apples, oranges, and pears.

The final comma is the comma in question.

Serial commas are optional. You don't have to use them if you prefer not to. However, I prefer them, as do all the publishers I work for. I think they lend clarity; for example:

The color combinations are red and beige, blue and green and orange and yellow. (no serial comma)

The color combinations are red and beige, blue and green, and orange and yellow. (serial comma)
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Craven de Kere
 
  1  
Reply Thu 4 Sep, 2003 03:30 pm
I prefer tehm as well. You might want to add that the use differs in the different English speaking countries.
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Roberta
 
  1  
Reply Thu 4 Sep, 2003 05:15 pm
You just did. Or do you want me to be more specific? If you do, I can't be. I don't know which countries follow which style.
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Craven de Kere
 
  1  
Reply Thu 4 Sep, 2003 05:21 pm
Hmm, if I remember I'll look it up so taht I don't include any falsities.

Where did that discussion take place?
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Roberta
 
  1  
Reply Thu 4 Sep, 2003 05:30 pm
There was a thread called Rules for Commas--http://www.able2know.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=8572
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Merry Andrew
 
  1  
Reply Sat 6 Sep, 2003 04:18 pm
Roberta, I disagree with you on the usefulness of the serial comma. (But you already knew that. Smile ) It seems to me that using both a conjunction and a punctuation mark in tandem is just gilding the lily.

However, you're spot-on about the semi-colon, a very valuable, albeit undervalued and underused, piece of punctuation.
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Roberta
 
  1  
Reply Sat 6 Sep, 2003 10:51 pm
Hiya Andy, So you don't think that the serial comma is of value, even in the example above?

The color combinations are red and beige, blue and green and orange and yellow.

Okey dokey.

Glad we agree about semicolons. They are handy, and they are underused.
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roger
 
  1  
Reply Sun 7 Sep, 2003 01:11 am
They're real handy if you try to write in the style of It Was a Dark and Stormy night.
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Merry Andrew
 
  1  
Reply Sun 7 Sep, 2003 07:11 am
No, no, Roberta. In the colorful example you use, the final comma is more than justified. But it's one of the rare exceptions to (my) rule. IMO, if you were to say, The colors are red, white and blue, there would be no need for a comma preceding 'and'. If, however, you are saying The colors were red and blue, green and orange, and black and white, the comma is necessary simply to avoid confusion.
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Roberta
 
  1  
Reply Sun 7 Sep, 2003 07:55 pm
Roger, Are you writing in that style? I seem to remember a lot of "ands" in "There was a dark and stormy night."

Andy, I agree that the serial comma isn't necessary in all cases. But I prefer it. Can't argue with that. Can you?
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