EXERCISE LESSON Mastering the Semicolon

Discussion in 'REFINING WRITING' started by Daz, Sep 9, 2017.

  1. Many writers seem to fear the semicolon, believing it to be too complicated to easily implement into their writing. Today I'm going to dispel that myth, and help you get used to using the semicolon. To start with, let's consider the three basic situations in which a semicolon can be used.

    1 - To separate items in a list.

    You probably already know that sometimes semicolons are used in place of commas to separate items in a list; however, you may not be aware of the specific rule for when semicolons can replace commas. You may use a semicolon to separate items in a list if any of the individual items contain a comma, since otherwise it can be confusing where each item starts and finishes. Below is an example sentence demonstrating semicolons separating items in a list.

    "When I went shopping I bought: a carton of eggs, to make omelette with; a loaf of bread; a bar of chocolate, because I wanted to treat myself; and some milk.

    Semicolons have been used to separate the items in the list because some of the items contain commas. For example, the item "a carton of eggs, to make omelette with," contains a comma. If commas were used instead of semicolons to separate items in the list then it would be unclear where each item begins or ends, since one may interpret a comma in a single item as indicating the beginning of a new item.

    2 - To link sentences which contain related ideas.

    If you have two sentences which make sense by themselves and contain related ideas, then you may use a semicolon instead of a full stop at the end of the first sentence. You would do this to indicate some sort of connection between the two sentences, such as the latter sentence explaining the former. The example sentence below demonstrates this idea.

    "I'm thinking of going on holiday in winter; I don't like staying at home in winter, because I get too cold."

    Both "I'm thinking of going on holiday in winter," and "I don't like staying at home in winter because it is too cold," make sense as separate sentences, so we are allowed to connect them using a semicolon instead of a full stop. By using a semicolon to link the sentences together I have implied a connection between the two sentences, the implied connection being that the second sentence explains the reasoning behind the first sentence.

    3 - To connect two parts of a sentence when a conjunctive adverb or transitional phrase is used.

    Before you can understand this rule you need to know what conjunctive adverbs and transitional phrases are. A conjunctive adverb is a word used to show a relationship between different parts of a sentence or sentences. You can read more details about conjunctive adverbs and see common examples of them here. A transitional phrase is the same as a conjunctive adverb in that it shows a relationship between different parts of a sentence or sentences, except it's not just one word. You can read more details about transitional phrases and see common examples of them here.

    Now that you know what conjunctive adverbs and transitional phrases are, we can look at when they should be used with a semicolon. If the two parts of your sentence which are being connected by the conjunctive adverb/transitional phrase would make sense as standalone sentences, then a semicolon should precede the conjunctive adverb/transitional phrase. This is demonstrated in the sentence below.

    "I enjoy writing in my spare time; however, I often find myself too busy to write."

    Both "I enjoy writing in my spare time," and "I often find myself too busy to write," would make sense as standalone sentences, so the rule applies. Since the two parts of the sentence are being connected by a conjunctive adverb we must put a semicolon before the conjunctive adverb. Remember, this rules does not apply to any time a conjunctive adverb/transitional phrase are used, only when the parts of the sentence it is connecting make sense as standalone sentences.

    ~​

    Hopefully you now have a basic understanding of when to use a semicolon, but you may not feel confident enough to regularly use semicolons in your writing yet. Well fear not, dear reader, for it's time to get some practice! Below are a series of sentences which either correctly or incorrectly use a semicolon. You have to decide whether you believe the semicolon was used correctly or not, then check your answer against the actual answer. After that you'll get the opportunity to create your own sentences using a semicolon.

    Sentence 1:
    You will need the following ingredients: eggs; milk; bacon; and cheese.

    Answer - The semicolon was used incorrectly. None of the items in the list contain commas, so commas should be used to separate the items instead of semicolons.


    Sentence 2:
    I'm afraid of spiders; animals with eight eyes creep me out.

    Answer - The semicolon was used correctly. Both "I'm afraid of spiders," and "animals with eight eyes creep me out," work as standalone sentences. By linking the two sentences we are showing that they are closely related, implying the latter sentence explains the former.


    Sentence 3:
    I don't use scissors to cut my nails; instead I use clippers.

    Answer - The semicolon was used correctly. Both "I don't use scissors to cut my nails," and "instead I use nail clippers" would make sense as separate sentences, so the rule will apply. Since "instead" is a conjunctive adverb joining these two sentences together, it should be preceded by a semicolon.


    Sentence 4:
    I use pencils to write, and I; also use them to stab people.

    Answer - The semicolon was used incorrectly. While "also" is a conjunctive adverb, the phrases "I use pencils to write, and I," and "also use them to stab people," do not make sense as separate sentences.


    Sentence 5:
    My favourite games are: Danganronpa, because of its great story; Portal, because of its captivating atmosphere; and Sims 4, because I love management games.

    Answer - The semicolon was used correctly. At least one item in the list contains a comma, so semicolons should be used to separate the different items rather than commas.


    Sentence 6:
    Because of my sensitive ears; I don't like music.

    Answer - The semicolon was used incorrectly. The phrases "because of my sensitive ears," and "I don't like music," do not make sense as separate sentences.


    Sentence 7:
    I like my coffee black; the weather is poor today.

    Answer - Incorrect. Even though both "I like my coffee black," and "the weather is poor today," make sense as separate sentences, there is no reason to connect the sentences as they are unrelated.


    Sentence 8:
    Daz is amazing; even so, he has probably made a mistake somewhere in this guide.

    Answer - The semicolon was used correctly. "Daz is amazing," and "even so, he has probably made a mistake somewhere in this guide," both make sense as separate sentences. Since "even so" is a transitional phrase connecting these two sentences, a semicolon should precede it.


    Sentence 9:
    The box contains; paper, pens, pencils, erasers, and a calculator.

    Answer - The semicolon was used incorrectly. The semicolon can be used to replace commas in a list, not the colon.


    Sentence 10:
    I like spaghetti bolognese; but I am too lazy to cook it.

    Answer - The semicolon was used incorrectly. The word "but" is not a a conjunctive adverb; rather, it is a coordinating conjunction. I know, it's confusing, that's why google is your best friend.


    Now have a go at creating an example sentence demonstrating the correct use of the semicolon for each rule. If you post your example sentences below then I can tell you whether or not you successfully used the semicolon. I also welcome you to ask any questions you may still have about using semicolons. Good luck, my fellow writers!
     
    • Love Love x 4
    • Like Like x 1
    • Bucket of Rainbows Bucket of Rainbows x 1