by Barbara McNichol
In many of the memos and manuscripts memos I read, writers take a convoluted approach to punctuation. Especially, 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Use semicolons to separate items or elements in a list that contains one of 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.
Note: This sentence could improve if it were broken into two or more sentences. Easier to follow!
Get clear on these rules; I guarantee knowing them will simplify your writing!