The Semi Colon Is Not Frightening

OK, people. There are untold millions of literate, educated, intellectual adults who secretly (or not so secretly) fear the semi colon. Semi colons are easy. They are not half as scary as spiders, zombies, or the Republican War on Women.

If you are a creative writer, there is only one time you need a semi colon. If you write academic, technical, business, or other more formal prose, there are two times when you might use a semi colon. So let’s start with the creative writing.

1. Do you have a sentence that is too long? Or maybe you have two sentences that are closely related to each other. Stick a semi colon in there, baby! Just make sure that the words on either side of the semi colon can stand on their own if they have to. It’s that easy. Don’t be afraid. Or, it’s that easy; don’t be afraid.

2. More technical writers: Do you find yourself drowning in a sea of commas? Do your lists seem never to end? The semi colon will save you. Treat it as a “strong comma” when you have lists within your lists.

When I sit down to work I want to have my computer, which is essential; my cup of coffee, which I drink hot and black; my notebook so I can write down all my brilliant style decisions; and my dog, who sleeps on a pillow at my feet.

It’s that easy. You’re welcome.

9 responses to “The Semi Colon Is Not Frightening

  1. Cougar is pleased that you have such an affectionate regard semicolons as she is quite fond of them too. She loves how they wink at you between two independent clauses (catch that Indy?), discretely implying relationship between the two.

  2. My second scene opens with a list broken up by semicolons. A series of winks, imploring the reader to go along with the braingasm.

    Will you give us a lesson on hyphens, Indy? I’m overusing them, I’m sure of it.

  3. I’ve been using more semicolons. I feel a little sick every time I use one, but it sure beats my other problem which is seeing a pageful of em dashes …. and ellipses…

    This morning I read 2 chapters of the latest TC Boyle novel. Not an em dash or semicolon in the mix, and hardly any commas. I was in awe. Maybe I’ll stop using everything, even quotations marks, and live with a clean page.

  4. Pingback: Hyphens Are Scarier than Semicolons | Fangs and Clause

  5. Pingback: Em dash—how difficult is it? | Fangs and Clause

  6. Somewhere I read that creative writers should not use semi colons because readers don’t understand them. Seem like their meaning/purpose is obvious in the usage. Regardless, I always put a semi colon in my stories specifically to flout that instruction not to. (Also, colons can be used in scenario 1 for an even “stronger” comma.)

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