Thursday, August 5, 2010

Spinach of the Week: Semicolons

I've decided to let the English teacher loose. I'm going give anyone who cares to read it a little weekly grammar lesson on a common mistake. I'm not here to judge. I just suspect people are less likely to correct someone's ongoing mix up "your" and "you're" than they are to tell them when there's spinach in their teeth.

My students always think punctuation is a breeze, and for the most part it is.  Then they see this...


...and they get a little nervous about the punctuation quiz.

They don't know what it's called or how to use it, and that's probably true for most adults as well.  Here's the lowdown.  It's a semicolon and it's used in these main situations.

I.  Say you have two complete sentences like these in which one is directly related to the other:

Sophie is afraid of the good camera.
She cries when she sees it.

You can combine those sentences in one of these ways.

1.  Sophie is afraid of the camera, so she cries whenever she sees it.

(a comma and a coordinating conjunction: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so. 

2.  Sophie is afraid of the camera; she cries whenever she sees it.

(JUST a semicolon)

II.  You can also use semicolons instead of commas when listing items in a series if those items are long and/or contain commas already.  Here's what I mean.

On our road trip we visited Detroit, Michigan, Denver, Colorado, and San Francisco, California.

At first glance this looks like six locations (especially to the geography-challenged).  Instead of separating them with commas, you should use semicolons to avoid confusion.

On our road trip we visited Detroit, Michigan; Denver, Colorado; and San Francisco, California.    


No comments:

Post a Comment

Bloggers love comments!

If you stop by for a visit, please leave a note. I would love to know who's checking in on us!