I just came across a semicolon that I really liked in Olivia McCannon's translation of Old Man Goriot. It struck me because even when semicolons are used correctly, they're often just different options for sentence construction that don't really transform meaning. So I wanted to take this opportunity to open up a discussion of how semicolons can be used to meaningful effect, however subtle. Here's the sentence: I'd argue that this semicolon implies something different than a full stop would have, and something thematically significant. In this novel we keep seeing Eugéne wrestle with his conscience and attempt to justify his passionate impulses, even and especially when they become morally questionable. This sentence appears to occur at one of the points where the omniscient narration mixes in some of his own thoughts (at least in McCannon's interpretation of Balzac's original text) while it's summarising his situation and decision-making process. Because the two separate statements are connected (note: in a way that wouldn't work with a comma in the same place), it suggests that they're concurrent, like when you rationalise something on the spot by inventing a special category just to place yourself in it. It feels like that kind of ad hoc reasoning. It hints that Eugéne is giving himself too much credit for his good intentions by focusing on a specific trait which he associates with morality. That's just a hint though, it's ambiguous in a way that really works for me, opening up some main themes of the novel for consideration. It's highly contextual and so probably inadequately summarised, but I'm excited to be able to point to a semicolon and say that it belongs there. If you can think of any examples of semicolon use that you've read (or hell, written) that you thought added meaning, please feel free to share them. Examples are often the best way to understand something, and it's not easy to think of an example of an effective semicolon off-hand. I want to collect examples showing different ways that semicolons can actually earn their keep, since grammar guides only ever explain/demonstrate how to use a semicolon correctly, not how to use them well. (If you're a little unclear about the rules of semicolon use, which a ton of us are, my favourite of these how-to guides is illustrated by The Oatmeal). But to really master any aspect of writing, you have to understand why you might use something, just as much as how to use it. So I can understand the general confusion around semicolons, which are anything but straightforward. Nonetheless, semicolons shouldn't be the dumping ground of confused punctuators. Once I heard someone say "If you're not sure how to connect two things, just use a trusty semicolon every time. They can do anything." (This wouldn't have knifed my soul if it hadn't come from an English teacher in training. She's the sort of person who lacks a natural grasp of spelling and grammar, and more to the point, she knows that she doesn't get it and isn't the least bit interested in sorting out her own confusion. Soon she'll be instructing bewildered kids in the art of written language, and I just try not to think about it.) I cherish the deftly employed semicolon all the more because it's such a rarity. Obviously it's true that people tend to whip them out gratuitously and incoherently. I know a lot of accomplished writers are happy to go without them, or proud to avoid them, and I don't think their writing is necessarily weaker for it. Still, I think it's a misconception that semicolons can't do any good, and if you keep an eye open for situations where they can serve a purpose, that's just one more arrow in your quiver.