Punctuation and the Semicolon Help (page 3)
How to Use a Semicolon
- Use a semicolon between closely related independent clauses not joined by a coordinating conjunction.
- Use a semicolon to connect independent clauses linked with a conjunctive adverb.
- The semicolon is also used to connect other elements of equal weight. For example, use a semicolon between items in a series when the series contains internal punctuation.
- For clarity, use a semicolon to separate independent clauses that are joined by coordinating conjunctions when the clauses have internal punctuation that might lead to confusion.
We've had extremely cold and wet weather this spring; my annual flowers are a month behind in growth.
The new position makes weekend work mandatory; no one applied for the job.
I can't finish preparing the feast in one day; indeed, I may not be done in three days.
I won't be able to take any time off; however, that doesn't mean you can't.
My territory includes Detroit, Michigan; San Jose, California; and Jacksonville, Florida.
Among the conferees were John Litton, president of the Sun Awning Corporation; Leslie Martin, president of Paragon Computer; and Sue Daley, CEO of Environmental Sciences.
In most cases, the counselor in charge will communicate with the parents; but on weekends, however, if the counselor in charge is not available, Dr. Alper will take that responsibility.
Remember that semicolons are always followed by a lowercase letter, unless that letter begins a proper noun.
Joining Complete Thoughts with a Semicolon
A semicolon is a strong mark of punctuation that, unlike the period, can be used in the middle of a sentence to join two complete thoughts. Semicolons join independent clauses. You may recall that an independent clause is a group of words that contains a subject and a verb and expresses a complete thought.
You may recall the quote from John Kennedy's inaugural speech (cited in Chapter 7):
- Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.
Obviously, President Kennedy wanted the listener (reader) to fully appreciate how closely related the two thoughts were, that two requests existed simultaneously. In this case, a semicolon achieves this better than a period.
Go back much further to the King James Version of the Bible (1611) at Genesis. Read the first part of the second verse in Genesis:
- "And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep…"
In this verse, the semicolon allows the reader to explore and add a deeper meaning to the first clause. The basic idea here is that "… the earth was without form, and void." The next clause, "and darkness was upon the face of the deep," gives the reader further detail, a clearer idea of what the formless earth looked like.
- Two people started this project; only one person remains.
- Bindu has a four-year-old daughter; the child is being raised according to her Indian heritage.
Either half of the Kennedy sentence as well as the preceding sentences could stand independently. Sometimes, however, for variety, we want to join thoughts that are closely related; we use a semicolon to do that. Otherwise, we might have a long series of not-too-interesting short sentences.
Notice that a comma would not work in place of the semicolon in the following sentence. In fact, you would create a common, serious error: the run-on sentence. You cannot separate two complete thoughts with a comma:
- Incorrect: Two people started this project, only one person remains.
You can, however, separate two thoughts with a comma and a conjunction in place of the semicolon.
- Correct: Two people started this project, but only one person remains.
In summary, you can write one sentence three ways, each being correct:
- I don't like the terms of the contract. I will not sign it.
- I don't like the terms of the contract; I will not sign it.
- I don't like the terms of the contract, so I will not sign it.
Remember that you need a complete sentence on both sides of a semicolon:
- Incorrect: While I've read through the complaint once; I'm not ready to sign it.
- Correct: I've read through the complaint once; I'm not ready to sign it.
Which word in the first sentence makes the punctuation incorrect? The word while makes the first half of the sentence an incomplete thought. When you say the first sentence aloud, you want to ask, "What then?" Consequently, you can't use a semicolon. A comma would be correct.
- While I've read through the complaint once, I'm not ready to sign it.
What's wrong with the following sentences?
- Since I'm late already; I won't stop for coffee.
- When the car stopped suddenly; my son was restrained by a seat belt.
- If the seller accepts our offer; we'll be in our new house by June 1st.
The answer to the question asked before the examples is that the first half of each sentence is introduced by a word (i.e., since, when, if) that makes the introductory clause incomplete; it can't stand alone, so the semicolon is incorrect. Insert commas instead.
- Since I'm late already, I won't stop for coffee.
- When the car stopped suddenly, my son was restrained by a seat belt.
- If the seller accepts our offer, we'll be in our new house by June 1st.
Semicolon Practice and Answers
Using the preceding information, decide whether each of the following sentences is correctly punctuated. Insert semicolons where necessary.
- No one will ever forget those Olympics, so many records were shattered.
- My heart was set on the American winning, my dream was shattered.
- Although I was so disappointed that we had lost; I watched the award ceremony anyway.
- Kate accepted our earlier invitation to stay for the weekend a week later she cancelled because of illness.
- The purchase of Alaska in 1867 helped America take its first steps to power in the Asia-Pacific region meanwhile Russian efforts ceased to expand trade and settlements on the Pacific coast of North America.
1. …those Olympics; so many… 2. …American winning; my dream… 3. …we had lost, I watched… 4. …the weekend; a week later… 5. …Pacific region; meanwhile, Russian…
Avoiding Confusion with Semicolon and Commas
Using a semicolon sounds easy enough; for variety, just join two complete thoughts with a semicolon instead of a period. Or join two complete thoughts with a comma plus a connecting word such as and, but, or. However, if you do this, there is the potential for a problem. On occasion, two complete and related thoughts already contain commas. What can you do to avoid confusion?
- I usually buy organic blueberries, strawberries, and grapes; but I don't buy them as often when the prices go up in the winter.
Normally, as noted earlier, two related thoughts can be connected by a comma when you use the word but:
- I usually buy organic strawberries, but I don't buy them as often when the prices go up in the winter.
However, with all the commas in the original first clause (blueberries, strawberries, and grapes), you need to avoid the confusion that too many commas can cause. When this occurs, use a semicolon before the small connecting word:
- Candy, my calico cat, is not very large; but even though she never wins, she tries to fight the local dogs.
Finally, use a semicolon between items in a series that contains internal punctuation. For example:
- There are beautiful historic mansions in Newport, Rhode Island; Lake Geneva, Wisconsin; and Hudson Valley, New York.
- Minna scored 2,837,770 points; Marcia, 2,312,760; and Joie, 1,714,450.
This is sometimes called a serial semicolon—for obvious reasons.
Punctuation Errors Practice and Answers
Correct the punctuation errors in the following sentences.
- We packed lunch, put suitcases in the car, and filled the gas tank, so we ended up leaving late.
- Our to-do list included addressing Christmas cards, taking clothes and shirts to the cleaners, and buying several last-minute gifts, but when our dog became ill, there was no time to do any of it.
- Trucks, vans, and recreational vehicles are required to use the right lane, but cars can use three left lanes.
- Early settlers prepared as carefully as possible for the journey, drove across the country, and used natural resources as they needed them, but they didn't practice renewal or replacement.
- The secretary took our health insurance information, the nurse led us upstairs, and the laboratory technician drew blood, yet we were just getting started in what had to be accomplished.
1. …gas tank; so we… 2. …gifts; but when… 3. …right lane; but cars… 4. …needed them; but… 5. …blood; yet we…
Using Semicolons with Conjunctive Adverbs
The connecting words in the previous sentences were all short ones—but, yet, so. What if the connecting word you need is a long word? The following longer connecting words (conjunctive adverbs) are always preceded by a semicolon and followed by a comma when used to connect two complete thoughts.
- in as much as
- The realtor, an old friend of mine, prepared the sales agreement; however, we held up the signing until our financing was approved.
- Marcello, my Italian friend, is a chef in Florence; nevertheless, he is currently in Boston taking classes and demonstrating his amazing skills.
Semicolons with Conjunctive Adverbs Practice and Answers
Use the preceding two examples to help you correct the punctuation errors in the following sentences.
- Supposedly, we've been on a low-carbohydrate diet for a long time nevertheless we continue to eat bread at lunchtime and cookies at night.
- Remove your shoes at the door otherwise you'll have to take the responsibility of cleaning the floor again.
- The country has made its decision therefore we must move through the future with confidence and determination.
- You may not have received exactly the position you expected however you still have to offer your best work.
- Before you buy an expensive houseplant ask the grower how much light the plant needs moreover ask questions about watering and feeding the plant.
1. …time; nevertheless, we… 2. …door; otherwise, you'll… 3. …decision; therefore, we… 4. …expected; however, you still… 5. …an expensive houseplant, ask… needs; moreover,…
Punctuate the following sentences correctly according to the rules you have learned.
- David and I went home after work; while Chico went to the game.
- In 1772, Lord Mansfield's decision outlawed slavery only in England it did not apply to British colonies.
- The painters plan to repaint the entire house however we will not be able to replace the roof at the same time.
- The day is cloudy, we cannot take pictures.
- When you are ready for dinner, please call me and I although still at work will meet you.
- Although all the dress stores have sales now I can't go shopping.
- If you have ever overspent your budget you know how I feel therefore no one will convince me to shop.
- We brought an umbrella for each of us because it was raining heavily when we left home
- The new school year is about to begin consequently we're busier than ever preparing for it.
- For the longest time Julia worked at the counter in the kitchen or in a corner of her bedroom finally she had an attached porch finished and heated for her workspace.
1. …work, while Chico… 2. …only in England; it did not… 3. …house; however, we… 4. …cloudy; we cannot… 5. …call me, and I, although still at work, will meet you. 6. …sales now, I can't… 7. …budget, you know how I feel; therefore, no one… 8. …left home. 9. …to begin; consequently, we're busier… 10. For the longest time,… her bedroom; finally, she had an…
This exercise is a review of many punctuation rules. You should be able to easily correct the punctuation errors. If you find it difficult to do so, review Chapter 4 and this chapter before you go further. Read the following paragraphs, and insert or delete punctuation marks wherever necessary.
I'm not a big eater however chocolate is my downfall. I know that dark chocolate is actually good for me but how much do I really need "for my health?" Each meal ends with an immediate desire for the dark chocolate that I love, (add almonds and it's even better.). Now I'm feeling the results of all that pleasure my waistline shows the results. I'm now willing to forget how good it is for me moreover I want to lose the new inches I've gained!
People who are concerned about the health of our planet go beyond warnings about plastic bottles and efficient lightbulbs they want us to become vegetarians. They believe that the growing, and killing of more than 60 billion animals worldwide each year is a large part of the devastation brought on by the farming industry. Experts say that while it takes 25 gallons of water to grow a pound of wheat; it takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce a pound of beef.
1. …big eater; however, chocolate… downfall. 2. …good for me, but how much… "for my health"? 3. …that I love (add almonds and it's even better). 4. …that pleasure; my waistline… results. 5. …good it is for me; moreover, I want…
1. …bulbs; they want 2. …believe that the growing and killing 3. …a pound of wheat, it takes
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