In many memos and manuscripts created, their writers often take a convoluted approach to punctuation. Most noteworthy, too many semicolons show up in too many wrong ways. How can you remember what’s right?
Every time you’re tempted to use a semicolon, review these three brief rules.
1. Use a semicolon to separate two independent clauses. Independent means each clause has both a subject and verb. Even though each clause could stand alone as a separate sentence, the semicolon indicates a relationship between the two. e.g., I need to upgrade my writing skills; embarrassing mistakes have been creeping in.
Note: Do not use both a semicolon and a conjunction to join two clauses—pick one or the other. e.g., I need to upgrade my writing skills; but embarrassing mistakes have been creeping in.
2. Use a semicolon before a transitional adverb such as “therefore” or “however.”
e.g., The payment is overdue; therefore, we owe a penalty.
e.g., It’s been a long time since we met; however, it’s not too late.
Note: Use a comma after “therefore” and “however” in these cases.
3. Use semicolons to separate items or elements in a list that contains one or more internal commas.
e.g., She traveled to Beijing, China; Paris, France; and London, England.
e.g., He believes three things: that every situation, no matter how grim, can be resolved; that no one needs to suffer, especially Mother Earth; and that people are inherently good.
Action: Get clear on these rules. Using them will clarify your writing immediately.
Barbara McNichol is passionate about helping authors add power to their pen. To assist in this mission, she has created a Word Trippers Tips resource so you can quickly find the right word when it matters most. It allows you to improve your writing through excellent weekly resources in your inbox, including a Word Tripper of the Week for 52 weeks. Details at www.WordTrippers.com
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