I will never understand the hatred of the semicolon. It is a useful and correct punctuation mark, if ever there was one. It has saved me, many times, from being run over by a run-on sentence. A run-on sentence is like the grafting of a lemon tree and a lime, using nothing but a bit but a crooked toothpick. The toothpick is a comma, nosing its way into closely-related, but independent thoughts, without benefit of a conjunction. Joining sentences together with a comma, by itself, creates the dreaded comma splice, the bane of English teachers everywhere.
A comma, alone, isn’t designed to signal, to the reader, the transition from one completed thought to the next. The semicolon rules!
An independent clause is a sentence, usually a short one, that is quite capable of standing on its own. But, instead, it stands next to another, equally independent thought that completes it. The semicolon, then, is like a wedding ring, symbolizing the marriage of two strong ideas that complement one another. For example:
Nicky, a spirited stallion, was Jen’s favorite. She would not tolerate a worn-out nag like Ellie.
It’s fine to leave these clauses standing, headstrong and independent, as separate sentences with a period in between. But one thought completes the other. The writer has some choices to make, in how to signal to the reader what their relationship is. Knowing when to use a semicolon is important; it is key to showing the inseparable nature of two independent ideas. They can be joined:
Here are some examples:
Sure. You can flirt with your online crush, or you could decorate your house with them.
As the poster says, it’s not just for winky faces!
You can use them in complex lists. Perhaps you have the following on your grocery list: a pat of butter; two pounds of chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry ice cream; three pounds of chopped walnuts, lightly glazed; and so on. This is very useful when the list items, themselves, contain commas. Try writing the previous list, using commas instead of the semicolons, and you’ll see what I mean. Do I want two pounds of chocolate? (YES!) A bottle of vanilla extract? How much strawberry ice cream? (GALLONS!) Or do I want two pounds of chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry ice cream?
Semicolons do have their detractors. It’s only fair to warn you that some writers could happily live their entire lives without employing the hard-working semicolon. Sometimes, it seems trendy to shun the semicolon, but the writer who does that is the one who misses out on its delicate, nuanced meaning.
There’s also Project Semicolon, dedicated to preventing suicide. The semicolon, that beautiful outcast of the punctuation world, seems a fitting symbol for all the stories that are not over yet.