Saturday 31 August 2013

Semiconscious Semicolons

The simplest way to explain the semicolon: a comma is sleepy, a period is asleep, and a semicolon is semiconscious.

 The main function of the semicolon is to mark a break that is stronger than a comma but not as final as a period. It is used between two main clauses that are closely related. 

        - The path to the castle is paved with stone; trees line and shade the travelers.

        - The chef searched for the pots and pans; the dragon helped to save time.
It can also be used where the conjunction is left out and instead of having two sentences.
     - The dragon summoned the royal councilman for an answer; he had no answer. 
     - The king had paid a heavy price for the potion; he was very pleased.

It is preferable to use a semicolon before introductory words such as however, therefore, this is, for example, namely, or for instance when they introduce a complete sentence. A comma usually follows the introductory word.
     - The dragon liked to prepare his specialty dishes; namely, onion-a-la-tart, onions-ta-da, and onion stuffed squid.

The semicolon is used to separate items of a series when one or more of the items contains a comma.
     - The dinner party included the puny army, from the Land of Messogie; Bograt, the bog witch; and Duce Crablips, from the faraway Kingdom of Crablips.

Use the semicolon between two sentences that are joined by a coordinating conjunction when one or more commas appear in the first part of the sentence.
     - The dragon promised to mop the floor, clean the dishes, and throw out the onion peels; and a promise is a promise.
Seimicolons are follow by lower case letters, unless the letter is the first letter of a proper noun. 

      - Several castles were in a state of disrepair; Longstride Castle being one of them.

Modern usage recommends no space before a semicolon, and one space after it.

For a more in depth look at semicolons:

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copyright, Diane Mae Robinson, 2013


  1. I had never heard of a sleepy comma, an asleep period, and a semi conscious semi-colon. So what is the colon? Besides a large intestine that sometimes breaks from the wall when the superglue connecting it gives way?

    Where do you find this, or did you make the introduction up? Interesting way to think about it. I am more guilty of not suing the semi-colon that over using it. I think many overuse it, for some reason. What you said in explaining when makes sense . . . if only I can remember. Nice posts.

  2. I would describe the colon as comatose. I'm pretty sure I made this all up--sounds like something I would make up, right? I actually wrote the post a long time ago and just posted it now.

    Yes, I agree, many writers overuse the semi-colon. But if you use it correctly, it doesn't seem to meddlesome.

  3. You made up the nicknames comma is sleepy, period is asleep, and the semi-colon is semi-conscious? Except for the last one, I like it. This sounds like something a teacher would come up with. Now that you are officially a teacher of writing, I suppose this fits you. Good luck on the job.

  4. Thanks for the "Good Luck" cheer. I start with new students very soon, and I'll probably need that good cheer from my good friend soon enough.