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March 2012 Volume 8 Issue 3

The Write Stuff

March 2012  Volume 8 Issue 3

Several Simple Semicolon Strategies
I love semicolons. Used correctly, they can add power and sophistication to your writing, but they can detract when misused…and they’re a bit more tricky to “get” than commas or apostrophes.

If you’d like to add semicolons to your punctuation arsenal, please be aware that they may be used in the following two distinct ways:

1. Semicolons can provide a bridge between two sentences that relate to one another. “Sentences” is most important in that definition; the copy on either side of the semicolon needs to be able to stand alone as its own sentence. (See? I just did it!)

Here are a few other examples:

  • Just contact us; we’ll be happy to help.
  • The FDA doesn’t allow companies to market waterproof sunscreen anymore; it now must be called water-resistant.
  • The NHL playoffs are just around the corner; the Sharks still have some work to do just to get in.

The common denominator here is that you could replace the semicolons with periods and the result in each case would be two perfectly fine sentences. By choosing to connect them via a semicolon, however, you enhance the copy’s flow and readability.

2. Semicolons can also be used to “manage” list copy when one of more items contains a comma, like this:

  • The places I’ve called home include Chicago, Illinois; Dallas, Texas; San Jose, California; and San Diego, California.
  • The symptoms of dehydration include low blood pressure; rapid heart rate; and lethargy, confusion, or coma.
  • There are three ways to correct vision: glasses, which some may feel are cumbersome; contacts, which are more “seamless”; and surgery, which is a relatively new option.

The common denominator here is that by utilizing semicolons to separate list items, you eliminate any confusion that might ensue from using commas.
 

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