The semicolon is a punctuation mark that closely resembles the comma. If you examine its form, you will see that it is made up of a period and a comma, which suggests that it is intended to be stronger than a comma, but not as final as a period. If you think of it as a strong comma, you will be less likely to use it in the wrong place. It has four general uses:
- It joins independent clauses when the comma-conjunction joiner is stylistically weaker:
- Good: Power corrupts, but absolute power corrupts absolutely.
- Better: Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.
- It separates a statement from a question or a needed shift in mood:
- Stop that nonsense; or should I tell your mother?
- Notice there are two shifts in that sentence–a shift from the imperative mood to the indicative, and a shift from a statement to a question. Generally speaking, you would want to avoid such shifts within a sentence, but again style comes into play. If you do it intentionally and for a valid reason–for example, to render realistic dialogue–you can employ shifts in your writing, and use punctuation to keep your meaning clear.
- The semicolon separates series and clauses that contain internal punctuation (usually commas):
- Anyone interested in man’s past might major in history, the study of his recent past; archeology, the study of his ancient past; or anthropology, the study of his evolutionary development.
- When the second clause of a compound sentence is introduced by a conjunctive adverb, a semicolon separates the clauses (remember that a comma follows the conjunctive adverb in this case):
- I believe he can do the work; otherwise, I would not have hired him.
- Smithers has the qualifications for the job; nevertheless, he lacks the experience.
This article was taken from the course Writing the Memoir 101. Click here to register for the course now!