Aside from maybe nuclear physics, punctuation must be the physically smallest and most polarizing topic around. For what’s essentially a series of funny-shaped dots, punctuation can really get the blood boiling—amongst prescriptivist grammarians and LOL-loving texters alike.And the mark that gets us barking most, of course, is the oft-befuddling, presumedly pretentious semicolon. But I, the Blog Doctor, submit that the semicolon simply suffers from a case of mistaken identity. The colon-comma-combo isn’t some obfuscation device reserved for the annals of academia, but a wickedly utile little friend that we ought all to start peppering into our paragraphs.
How Semicolons Work
Without getting too deep into grammatical jargon, a semicolon connects two independent clauses. If your palms started getting clammy at the mere mention of “independent clauses”, don’t worry. Remember how a sentence, at its core, is a subject (i.e. a noun) and a verb that form a complete thought? That’s what an independent clause is: a simple, punctuation-free sentence. So just think of a semicolon as a piece of punctuation that connects two sentences:
- “The Blog Doctor was just too charismatic and handsome; I couldn’t help but fall in love.”
In the above sentence, both “the Blog Doctor was just too charismatic and handsome” and “I couldn’t help but fall in love” are stand-alone sentences, and so the semicolon is a perfect method of joining them.
Why use a semicolon when I can use a period, right? WRONG. Periods are great, don’t get me wrong, but they’re harsh and abrupt. A period means the thought is over. Period. Semicolons give your sentence fecund connectivity, like graceful figure skaters entwined in one of those spinny moves. Here’s an example:
- “I think it’s something about the Blog Doctor’s eyes. They’re resplendent with the hazel of a prehistoric forest-garden.”
- “I think it’s something about the Blog Doctor’s eyes; they’re resplendent with the hazel of a prehistoric forest-garden.”
Option 1 feels odd, doesn’t it? Kind of stilted and halting? That’s because the two clauses in these examples relate back to one another; by using the semicolon, readers more naturally follow the connection between the quality of the eyes and what the speaker thinks about them. And that’s what grammar is all about: making the reader better understand the thoughts on the page. So let’s all relax—okay, grammarians and texters?
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