Punctuation Spotlight: The Semicolon

Punctuation Spotlight: The Semicolon

The semicolon [;], not to be confused with the colon [:]. It’s more than just part of the winky face emoticon [;)]. It’s a punctuation mark you can use to enhance and clarify your writing. Here’s how:

1) Use the semicolon between two complete ideas relevant to the same topic.
You might be thinking, can’t I just put a period at the end of each sentence? And yes, you could.

Ex.: Using an eReader is a customizable experience. Individuals can choose their own font, text size, and line spacing, for starters.

The sentences in our example relate to one another in that they refer to the same topic and the second one gives examples of how reading eBooks is a customizable experience.

Now let’s see how this example reads with a semicolon instead of a period between the ideas:

Using an eReader is a customizable experience; individuals can choose their own font, text size, and line spacing, for starters.

It has a bit of a different feel, doesn’t it, without the full stop between the two ideas? Because the semicolon is not as strong, as defined, a separation as the period, you can use semicolons once in a while to make your writing less choppy.

2) Use the semicolon to separate items in complex lists.
But wait, don’t we just use commas to separate items in lists? Well, yes and no. In most cases, commas work just fine. But what about a list in which individual items contain commas? Here’s an example:

If you’d like to write a memoir, my top reading recommendations for you are Persepolis, Girl, Interrupted, and On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, in that order.

If you were unfamiliar with the middle book, Girl, Interrupted, you might not realize the narrator of this sentence is recommending three books rather than four. Or, you might think the first part of the title goes with the first book in the list. So, let’s clear that up:

If you’d like to write a memoir, my top reading recommendations for you are Persepolis; Girl, Interrupted; and On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, in that order.

Teresa Boyer
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