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As promised, here is some additional guidance about using the semicolon. Before I get to the semicolon guidance–actually to lay the groundwork for it–I need to mention another punctuation mark.

This flimsiest of punctuation marks, the comma, barely slows a reader down. We hardly see them. This is the reason your English teacher was so horrified when you made what she called “comma splices”–you used the wimpy comma to separate two independent clauses, two groups of words that each could have been a sentence. Shame on you!

There really is logic here. If we are to digest “main ideas,” we have to come to a significant pause between them.

I write well. I enjoy writing. I teach others to write.

Those are all complete sentences, all complete thoughts. The periods help readers stop and think.

And so does the semicolon, and this was yesterday’s Punctuation Tip of the Day. You use a semicolon to separate independent clauses. If you’re tempted to use a comma, think twice! Remember how you got dinged in the eighth grade for those comma splices! Day after tomorrow I’ll tell you when you can use a comma between independent clauses, but you’re just not ready for it yet!

Here is Semicolon Use #2: You use a semicolon with an animal called a “conjunctive adverb” between independent clauses. Again, you can use a semicolon all by itself if the relationship between the two clauses is clear and straightforward.

For example–

He ran all the way to the store in his heavy jacket; he was exhausted, soaked through with sweat, when he arrived there.

The relationship between the ideas is pretty clear: he ran all the way and got all sweaty in the process. When the relationship is a bit less clear, you use a conjunctive adverb.

Common conjunctive adverbs are–


So the second major use of the semicolon is to join one independent clause to another in a sentence with a conjunctive adverb.

For example–

I was dead tired when I arrived home; however, I still had housework to do before going to bed.

It may help you to remember the definition of “conjunctive”: it is “serving to join together.” I think of the prefix “con” meaning “with,” and I think of “junctive” as a meeting place (as in “junction”). So, a conjunctive adverb is an adverb that “joins together.” There. Remember that.

You are such a sophisticated semicolon user now! There’s one more fairly common use of the semicolon, and we’ll cover that in tomorrow’s post.

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