Monday, December 5, 2011

Grammatically Yours - Introduction to Semicolons (1/5)

I have heard a lot of writers express frustration as to the purpose of the semicolon. In many ways, this tiny little piece of punctuation causes more pain than bliss. Because of the confusion it causes, semicolons are often avoided with a vengeance – relegated to the trash heap of scary grammar.

But semicolons have a definite place in writing, and they can be very helpful if not misused (or overused).

So what’s up with the semicolon? What does it do, and why on earth do we need it?

Personally, I look at the semicolon as an organizational tool for sentences. It is perfect for grouping ideas – whether long or short – into a sentence that is easy to understand.

So, let’s take this in bite-sized chunks. Every day this week, I will upload a short (sort of) blog post containing one new piece of semicolon-relevant information. Deal?

Deal.

Let’s start with the easiest use of the semicolon:

The semicolon is perfect for organizing lists of items that already contain commas.

Take the following example:

Without the semicolon –

During our trip, Joe and I drove to San Diego, California, Austin, Texas, Denver, Colorado, Little Rock, Arkansas, Cincinnati, Ohio, and New York City, New York.

Okay, first of all, this sentence has a ton of commas. Second of all, this sentence has a ton of commas. Third of all, those people spent who knows how much money on gasoline for that trip. No thanks.

Now compare the original sentence with this one:

With the semicolon –

During our trip, Joe and I drove to San Diego, California; Austin, Texas; Denver, Colorado; Little Rock, Arkansas; Cincinnati, Ohio; and New York City, New York.

Don’t you think that’s a little cleaner and more organized? It's definitely easier to understand.

Here’s one more example just for fun:

Without the semicolon –

The following professors were at the meeting: Andrew Root, Professor of Botany, Andrea McDonald, Professor of Animal Sciences, Andre Genome, Professor of Genetics, and Andy Star, Professor of Astronomy.

With the semicolon –

The following professors were at the meeting: Andrew Root, Professor of Botany; Andrea McDonald, Professor of Animal Sciences; Andre Genome, Professor of Genetics; and Andy Star, Professor of Astronomy.

See how helpful the semicolon is already? *smile*

Well, that’s it for part one. Check back tomorrow for part two!

~~~~~

Schedule:

Day One: Introduction to Semicolons <you are here>

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