When it comes to terminal marks (periods, exclamation marks, ect.) we are fearless, but I find it funny that so many writers are afraid of commas, semi colons, and colons. A few weeks back we looked at the proper use of commas, and so today I’d like to explore the uses of a semicolon … all the uses. Not just the ever-popular hooking two independent clauses together to create a stronger sentence.
Like all literary uses, the semicolon has seen its fair share of change. The 1906 Chicago Manuel of Style suggests that the semicolon be used after dialogue instead of the comma. Today you’d be raked over the literary coals for such treason. I think the reason why so many fear using internal punctuation marks is because how they’re used ebbs and flows with writing style trends.
Regardless of what’s “in style” at the moment, here are the rules and examples for semi colon uses.
It sounds complicated, but it’s really not.
For example, look at this simple sentence without the parenthetical phrases.
Isabel saw Brad, Peter, and Paul at her wedding reception.
Standard, right? but what if the reader needed to know a little something about each of these people?
Isabel saw Brad, the president of the company; Peter, her boss; and Paul, her former lover, at the wedding reception.
In this case, the semicolon is a distinct difference from the commas, which helps define the parenthetical phrases.
This is the most popular in today’s semicolon usage. I think it’s because books move faster, giving more a movie quality to the storyline that in years past.
Writers often will use this technique instead of a conjunction when they want to slam thoughts together instead of letting them flow.
For example, instead of:
I looked back, and the wolf was gone.
I looked back; the wolf was gone.
See how much stronger the second sentence is?
Shelly didn’t know her dorm didn’t allow pets; otherwise, she would have left her puppy at home.
Worried about this rule? Don’t sweat it. It’s the least common and usually found in academic writing, not fiction.