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The semicolon.

Posted by [email protected] on November 24, 2011 at 6:15 AM

Semicolon or comma? This can be a sticky question to resolve but here are some tips that we hope might help you to decide.

Love it or hate it, the semicolon is here to stay. George Orwell hated the semicolon so much that he refused to use it in one of his books - coming up for air, written in the year that the second world war broke out, does not have a single semicolon. George Bernard Shaw despaired of Lawrence, who used colons, commas and full stops but hardly ever a semicolon.


 So how should it be used?


It can be used as a join, it represents a pause somewhere between a comma and a full stop. If you find that you have written a gramattically correct long sentence, stretching over multiple lines, a proofreader might suggest that it be split into smaller sentences. Smaller sentences make the written word more readable. However, you as a writer have the last word and should you decide that a long sentence is about a single subject and you want it to remain as one long sentence, you can use semicolons instead of full stops. Thus grammar, your proofreader, you and the reader are catered for. This also would apply to long sentences suffering from a plethora of commas to separate clauses; swapping some for semicolons keeps the effect but is easier on the eye and potentially less confusing for your readers.


In some sentences, it is necessary to present the reader with a list. Normally, list items are separated by commas, however, with complex lists, a comma may be found within a listed item; the semicolon can then be used to impart a greater clarity.


A semicolon is also required both grammatically and rhetorically before adverbs. When using words such as moreover, nevertheless, however, consequently and so on, adverbs that imply some sort of reflection about the following idea, a semicolon before them is often needed in place of a comma.

Categories: Grammar, Style

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