Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Tuesday Tips:

Okay, first off, I've zombified myself in honor of Carrie Harris's debut YA novel, Bad Taste in Boys, which releases today.  It's next on my to read list, and I've heard only great things about it.  And Carrie warned me that I shouldn't eat anything while reading it.  Carrie's full of awesomesauce and a member of the Class of 2k11.

Oh, and she's holding an auction to benefit the Giving Library at the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital. You can bid on signed books, query critiques, a book trailer created by me and more, all for a great cause. :) 

Okay, onward.  It's Tuesday Tip Day, and today, with the help of Punctuation Made Simple, we're talking about the semi-colon.

 1) To Connect Two Sentences


The semicolon is most often used to connect two sentences. Obviously, the sentences ought to be relatively close in content, but other than that you can connect any two sentences with a semicolon.

As a communicator, you are always putting together complex items in your prose and showing how they relate to one another. A semicolon is an economical way to join two sentences, and therefore two ideas, so that your reader sees the relationship. For example:
Megan is awesome; she can do no wrong.
Are you asleep yet?  Wait until the next paragraph. (this is not an example of the semicolon, but my own personal opinion about this lesson)

The  example above contains two sentences glued together by a semicolon. The second part of the sentence makes a comment on the first. Certainly, each sentence could be written as two sentences, but you wouldn’t be expressing the close relationship between the two parts that you do when you use a semicolon.

The important point to remember is that you must have a complete sentence on both sides of the semicolon. If your second sentence begins with a conjunction (and, but, or, etc.), you do not need a semicolon because the conjunction and the comma that usually goes with it are equivalent to a semicolon. Instead, combine two full sentences with the semicolon. (Didn't they already say this?)
Sometimes a sentence may begin with words like however, therefore, and nevertheless. If your second sentence begins with one of these words, and if it is indeed a full sentence, you still must use a semicolon to connect the two. An example:

However, this lessons is boring; nevertheless, it is also educational. 


Never glue two full sentences together with only a comma. Grammarians call this sentence error a comma splice.  A comma splice is considered ungrammatical because the reader begins reading the second sentence before realizing that the first sentence is completed. Readers are used to stopping at the end of a sentence, and they become disoriented when they find that they have unknowingly left one sentence and entered a new one. (Really?  Does anyone really think this hard about reading?)  This is why effective writers avoid the comma splice. Here is an example a of comma splice:
Megan has a great blog, she is always interesting to read.
The example constitutes two sentences glued together with a comma. You can correct a comma splice by inserting a semicolon between the two sentences, by adding a comma to your conjunction, or, of course, by punctuating them as two sentences. Whichever way you choose, however, you must make sure your final drafts do not contain comma splices.


There is one instance in which a comma splice is considered acceptable. Occasionally, you may have a list of items that could stand alone as full sentences. (I wrote about the comma last week, so I'm not going over this again.  Go read last Tuesdays blog if you want to find out about the comma)

2) As Supercomma


As you know, you normally separate the members of a list with commas, as in this sentence:
I have just read Stupid Fast, The Pull of Gravity, Popular, and Illegal.  

The commas let the reader know where one item ends and the next begins. Sometimes, however, you have a list of complex items and one (or more) of the items already contains a comma. In such a case, the reader is likely to get confused about what is really a member of the list and what is not. You can avoid this confusion by making the semicolon a sort of“supercomma.” 

        I've just traveled to: Scotsdale, AZ, Long Island, NY, and Leavenworth, WA.

This sentence contains so many commas, both between the members of the list and within them, that readers are likely to become confused. Instead, you can make the semicolon a supercomma between each of the members so that your meaning is clear:

       I've just traveled to: Scotsdale, AZ; Long Island, NY;  and Leavenworth, WA. 


The second sentence is clearer than the first because the reader knows exactly where members of the list begin and end. You probably will not need to use a semicolon as a supercomma often, but if your sentence contains a list of items, one (or more) of which already contains a comma, you can clarify your meaning by using the supercomma.

And thus ends today's lesson on the semi-colon.  Come back next Tuesday where we talk about the colon.
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John Messina, Personal Injury Attorney

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