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The Editing Hour: The Semicolon

I love semicolons, when they’re used correctly. There are several ways to connect two independent clauses (ie complete sentences): using a coordinating conjunction or FANBOYS (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so), using a period and a capital, or using a semicolon. When using a semicolon, make sure the two sentences are closely related. They can be contrasting, as in “John like fish; Raj prefers meat,” or they can be similar, as in “Jose doesn’t ski much; he’s a summer sport kind of guy.”

Another use of the semicolon is to separate items in a series that have internal punctuation, like commas. For example: “There are three things I love: eating ice cream on a hot summer day; skydiving at sunset; and hosting dinner parties, except when I have to cook.”

A third use is to connect two independent clauses when the second is introduced by a conjunctive adverb like “however” or “thus.” For example: “The battle raged on through the night; however, I slept soundly despite all the noise.”

The fourth and last use of the semicolon is to separate independent clauses connected by a coordinating conjunction that or long or complex, or contain internal punctuation. For example: I went to bed after having drunk so much coffee that I lay there shaking until the clock struck one; and then I got out of bed to write, if one could call the mess of words I lay down on paper ‘writing’.”

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