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Using Semicolons With Independent Clauses

Guest Author - Terrie Lynn Bittner

Using a semicolon correctly will make your writing look far more professional and educated. This misunderstood bit of punctuation is very simple to understand once youíve had some practice. Take a good look at a semicolon. What two punctuation marks are combined into it? Yes, it has a period over a comma. Periods are a stop sign; commas are a slow-down sign. A semicolon combines both of those. Look at the semi colon I used earlier in this paragraph. The two sentences are related to each other. However, both could be stand-alone sentences, so they are each considered an independent clause. You could easily write:

Periods are a stop sign.
Commas are a slow-down sign.


They canít be connected by a comma because they are both independent sentences that donít absolutely need each other to survive. Itís sort of a speed limit sign. A comma tells the reader to hesitate for a fraction of a moment. A period says to stop completely, perhaps even taking a breath. But the semicolon is somewhere in the middle. It instructs the reader to slow down a bit longer so as to notice the connection between the two ideas.

Look at the sentence below. Could you replace the comma with a semicolon?

Janet ate cereal for breakfast, but John had pancakes.

At first glance, it might seem that you could, because you can correctly say:

Janet ate cereal for breakfast. John had pancakes.
However, there is a pesky little word stuck in-between those two sentences. If the words but, and, or, nor, for, or yet are between the sentences, you canít use the semicolon unless you remove that little connector.

Wrong:

Janet ate cereal for breakfast; but John had pancakes.

Right:

Janet ate cereal for breakfast; John had pancakes.

Right:

Janet and John had cereal for breakfast; the monster then had Janet and John for breakfast.

Some connecting words do allow for semicolon. You can tuck a semicolon into sentences containing certain connectors, such as ďfor exampleĒ or otherwise. These types of words are usually followed by a comma.

Wrong:

I did not win fame and fortune for my invention, however, my mother thought my Baby Muzzle was a clever idea.

Right:

I did not win fame and fortune for my invention; however, my mother thought my Baby Muzzle was a clever idea.

Semicolons should not be the most common punctuation in your article. Use them sparingly, but correctly.

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Why Grammar, Spelling, and Punctuation Matter
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Content copyright © 2013 by Terrie Lynn Bittner. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Terrie Lynn Bittner. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Bluedolphin Crow for details.

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