1. WritingNoob
    Offline

    WritingNoob Member

    Joined:
    Feb 3, 2010
    Messages:
    35
    Likes Received:
    0

    When to use a ";" or semi-colon?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by WritingNoob, Feb 3, 2010.

    hey guys, i just started reading a book called 'Writing well, the essential guide' and he uses the ';' a lot, but im not sure when it's the best time to use it.

    thanks
     
  2. Norm
    Offline

    Norm Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Feb 2, 2010
    Messages:
    226
    Likes Received:
    9
    Location:
    Michigan
    "The Semi-colon is a difficult punctuation mark to master; Few people are able to use it appropriately."

    Basically, it's a mark that joins two sentences that are related to each other. You can substitute it for a coordinating conjunction to make one compound sentence, and that's how you know if you used it correctly. For example, the quote above could also be written as a compound sentence instead of two joined by the semi-colon:

    "The Semi-colon is a difficult punctuation mark to master, so few people are able to use it appropriately."
     
  3. WritingNoob
    Offline

    WritingNoob Member

    Joined:
    Feb 3, 2010
    Messages:
    35
    Likes Received:
    0
    thanks for the reply.

    can it be used instead of 'but' too?

    i'd love a list of words the semi-colon replaces.
     
  4. WritingNoob
    Offline

    WritingNoob Member

    Joined:
    Feb 3, 2010
    Messages:
    35
    Likes Received:
    0
    I did a search and found this thread:

    http://www.writingforums.org/showthread.php?t=6006&highlight=%22semi+colon%22

    Someone said: "The semicolon is used to separate two sentences instead of a full stop, usually because the two sentences are closely linked. They must, however, both be complete main clauses on their own (ie stand alone as complete sentences)."

    Does this sound accurate?

    Thanks
     
  5. thirdwind
    Offline

    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2008
    Messages:
    7,352
    Likes Received:
    2,896
    Location:
    Boston
    ^ Yes, that sounds about right.

    I've noticed that not many modern writers use semicolons. But many writers from 100 or 150 years ago used them. I guess it just reflects a change in the writing style over the years. Personally, I see nothing wrong with semicolons and don't see why some people are so against using them.
     
  6. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Semicolons are overused by many beginning writers. It's best to start off with a strict quarantine policy ("Don't touch 'em"), and MAYBE ease back into them.

    With most modern published writers, you can read chapters, or even the entire novel, without encountering a semicolon.

    Why avoid them? Because most beginning writers use them as a compromise between using a conjunction to form a compoiund sentence and asserting a full stop. It's indecisive and wishy-washy. Choose one or the other. Mostly you should choose a full stop in these instances, because the majority of new writers are also too enamoured with massively compound sentences.
     
  7. DragonGrim
    Offline

    DragonGrim Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Oct 3, 2008
    Messages:
    818
    Likes Received:
    19
    Location:
    Iowa
    I think semicolons are starting to have the opposite effect from what they were originally intended. I almost never see one in fiction, and when I do, I pause a moment and consider it.
     
  8. Gannon
    Offline

    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2007
    Messages:
    3,977
    Likes Received:
    55
    Location:
    Manchester, England
    Many users choose to adopt them because their SPaG checker tells them to. Like many other suggestions made by these checkers, it is best to take them with a pinch of salt rather than verbatim. The checkers do not know what is stylistically best, and instead prescribe dry scenarios as is their limited programming.

    In this case, I've found it's best to adopt the Cogito approach.
     
  9. madhoca
    Offline

    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2008
    Messages:
    2,527
    Likes Received:
    88
    Location:
    the shadow of the velvet fortress
    No.
    A semicolon is used to do what Norm says, to join two CLOSELY RELATED sentences.
    If they are sentences with contrasting ideas on the same topic, 'but' might be an appropriate conjunction (words like and, but, whereas etc).
    On the other hand, 'and' would be used to join two sentences which are continuing the same idea, not 'but'. In both circumstances, a semicolon could be used to join the sentences without using a conjunction such as 'and' and 'but'.
    So ; does not = 'but'.
     
  10. Ree
    Offline

    Ree Member

    Joined:
    Jan 14, 2010
    Messages:
    46
    Likes Received:
    2
    Location:
    Western New York
    Very helpful - thank you!
     
  11. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    imo, the semicolon [no hyphen] has no place in today's fiction, though they were certainly used by novelists of earlier times... in every case where one may be used in fiction, without exception, a comma, period, em dash, or conjunction will do a much better job... and won't confuse the many readers who don't know what to make of the pesky things...
     
  12. WritingNoob
    Offline

    WritingNoob Member

    Joined:
    Feb 3, 2010
    Messages:
    35
    Likes Received:
    0
    btw, is it a bad idea to use the word 'that'?

    ok, thanks for the reply.

    can you give me an example?
     
  13. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    in most cases, 'that' is not needed and your writing will be better for its lack...
     
  14. WritingNoob
    Offline

    WritingNoob Member

    Joined:
    Feb 3, 2010
    Messages:
    35
    Likes Received:
    0
    ok thanks.

    is this a good example?

    Boxing is tough; as is life.

    Without the semi-colon:

    Boxing is tough and so is life.

    Or does the 'as' replace the semi-colon? Does the 'as' work as a semi-colon?
     
  15. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Boxing is tough, as is life.
     
  16. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    yup!... no need for a ; at all...
     
  17. Norm
    Offline

    Norm Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Feb 2, 2010
    Messages:
    226
    Likes Received:
    9
    Location:
    Michigan
    You're forgetting that there needs to be a complete sentence on both sides of the ;
     
  18. cboatsman
    Offline

    cboatsman Senior Member

    Joined:
    Feb 4, 2010
    Messages:
    120
    Likes Received:
    3
    Location:
    California
    Semi-colons still have their place in writing. The problem is knowing how and when to use them.

    They represent a yellow light to bridge the green and red. They are there to take place of a soft period when a comma just doesn't make the sentence complete, but a period would make it incomplete. They are the missing link.

    Here are some good examples I pulled from an article by author Robert Harris.

    Semicolons are very hard to use and as Cogito stated earlier in the thread, "...best left alone." However, they do have their uses and shouldn't be dismissed. Just make sure you fully understand their uses before you throw them in your writing.

    Also remember that more often than not where a semicolon is used you could more than likely replace it with a comma or find a way to write the sentence where the semicolon is not present. However, sometimes the semicolon completes the message you are trying to send better than a comma or period ever could. The missing link.

    Personally? I've found that you can write perfectly fine without the use of them and they should be avoided, not dismissed, by the beginning writer.

    Caleb
     
  19. zaffy
    Offline

    zaffy Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jan 9, 2010
    Messages:
    251
    Likes Received:
    0
    Norm wrote -
    "The Semi-colon is a difficult punctuation mark to master; Few people are able to use it appropriately."

    I thought, the word after a semi-colon should NOT be capitalised.
    "The Semi-colon is a difficult punctuation mark to master; few people are able to use it appropriately."

    I thought, the word after a colon should be capitalised.
    Freddie didn't want cake: He just wanted his Mother.
     
  20. WritingNoob
    Offline

    WritingNoob Member

    Joined:
    Feb 3, 2010
    Messages:
    35
    Likes Received:
    0
    oh, alright. it seems like many authors use their own standard when it comes to little things like this.

    man this stuff is difficult.
     
  21. cboatsman
    Offline

    cboatsman Senior Member

    Joined:
    Feb 4, 2010
    Messages:
    120
    Likes Received:
    3
    Location:
    California
    As far as I know, capitalization rules still apply all the same after semicolon and colon usage. However, there are also new rules introduced with the use of a colon especially depending on why you're using it to begin with. If my mind serves me correctly, your sentence is not the correct usage of a colon at all and would be better served by a semicolon or better yet a comma.

    That link provides a pretty good article on colon usage and especially capitalization following it. Hope this helps you, zaffy.

    Caleb
     
  22. Anneke
    Offline

    Anneke New Member

    Joined:
    Feb 9, 2010
    Messages:
    2
    Likes Received:
    0
    I posted this elsewhere and was directed to you fine people. What say ye regarding this:

    Water drips from the ceiling and plops into a bucket at the foot of her bed; two inches with flecks of white plaster that glow.

    Is that right? A comma doesn't seem like enough. A period certainly isn't right because the second half isn't a complete sentence. An em-dash perhaps? I can't decide.
     
  23. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    The semicolon doesn't patch this up. Form two complete sentences instead.
     
  24. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    see my reply and others' to your own thread re this sentence...
     
  25. WritingNoob
    Offline

    WritingNoob Member

    Joined:
    Feb 3, 2010
    Messages:
    35
    Likes Received:
    0
    Dashes are identical to semi-colons in terms of use, right?
     

Share This Page