Semicolons (or, punctuation beyond the wink face)

I have a secret. I’m one of those grammar people. I love the correct use of an Oxford Comma and if I say something like “come to the kitchen with Alice and me” I struggle to not follow it up with “that’s the correct use of ‘me’ by the way”.

I can’t help it and to be honest I don’t even mind.

Today I was chatting with someone about the use of a semicolon (as you do) and found myself explaining its use. I thought I’d further indulge by turning this conversation into a fully fledged blog post.

Semicolons connect two separate clauses in place of a conjunction or a full stop to join two sentences carrying the same theme.

For example:

There was a lady singing on the bus this morning. She was a really terrible singer.

This statement is separated by a full stop and if it was said out loud, the full stop would be emphasised with a short pause. However, if in place of the full stop, a semicolon is used, the connection between the two clauses is strengthened.

There was a lady singing on the bus this morning; she was a really terrible singer.

When read aloud, with a semicolon, you eliminate the pause without using a conjunction like, ‘and’, ‘but’, ‘nor’ or ‘yet.’ You’re still being just as critical, but your grammar is spot on.

Semicolons shouldn’t be used if there’s already a conjunction connecting two ideas together.

For example:

There was a lot of brownie and cake at the office today, but I decided it was okay to indulge.

The comma is already doing the job of connecting the two clauses here, therefore, a semicolon serves no purpose. However, by dropping the ‘but’ and replacing it with a semicolon, the sentence becomes a little punchier.

There was a lot of brownie and cake at the office today; I decided it was okay to indulge.

Easy as.

The broad strokes of this post were first penned over on wordsforbreakfast.co.nz where I used to write a few bits about grammar. Told you, I’m a total geek.