By Kate Gould
What is the correct way in which to use semicolons?
Despite being an arguably nonessential form of punctuation, the semicolon is prone to overuse, appearing scattered over paragraphs like confetti. In correct usage, it can serve two purposes.
The first is between sentences as a pause that is longer than a comma and shorter than a full stop.
For example: The rumour was that the queen had died; her subjects believed it.
Last Friday’s music exam was awful; Tuesday’s geography one was slightly easier.
The coroner said there will be an inquest, of course; but that is just the start of the investigation.
The second is to separate longer items in a list, particularly if the items themselves use further punctuation with commas.
For example: George arrived at the picnic with an enormous hamper; Alice brought wine, though she’d only thought to bring chardonnay which no one liked; Felicity arrived with her six dogs, one of which immediately tore open the leather straps on George’s hamper and slobbered all over the pork pies; and, finally, James turned up with his dreadful girlfriend who refused to eat anything, feeding it, instead, to her fluffy puppy.
Such a sentence could be punctuated solely with commas, but it would be difficult to follow.
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About the author:
Kate Gould has worked as an editor, book critic, columnist, slush pile reader, writing competition judge, hotel critic, magazine editor, English teacher, and research assistant. She is now Chief Editorial Consultant at The Fine Line and author of The Pocketbook of Prompts: 52 Ideas for a Story and The Perfect Word: The Fine Line Writing Course. Her book on flashers, Exposing Phallacy, is to be published by Zero Books.
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