Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Everything you ever wanted to know about semi colons

Semi colons have a difficult life. They’re halfway between a period and a comma, neither one nor the other. Many readers hate them with a passion. They slow reading down, and when the hero is backed into a corner and fighting off ten bad guys, the reader absolutely detests being slowed down. They also get blamed for horrible run-on, difficult to comprehend sentences. Some publishers rigorously remove every colon and semi colon from each manuscript.

All in all being a semi colon is a tough gig.

But wait. They can be helpful.

A semicolon can be used as a super comma in a list. Instead of wondering if I’m supposed to buy peas, macaroni, and cheese (three items) or peas plus macaroni and cheese (two items), I can use a semi colon to properly break up the list.

They can also replace conjunctions, making the reader see there are two separate ideas in the sentence, without constant repetition of little words like “and” and “but”, or too many short, choppy sentences.

So don’t totally disregard them. Used sparingly and with discretion, they may become your new best friend. (Unless your publisher bans them!)

Helen Woodall

Helen is available to line edit and/ or content edit fiction and non-fiction. Rates on application.

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