Saturday, January 26, 2013
From Professor Anne Enquist’s article, “The Semicolon’s Undeserved Mystique”:
It happened again last week. A student came in
for a writing conference and wanted to discuss
how she could improve her choppy, rather
unsophisticated writing style. As we looked at
several of her paragraphs, I pointed out a pair of
sentences that might be joined by a semicolon.
“Oh, I never use semicolons,” she flatly
declared, much in the same way someone might
say I don’t smoke, eat red meat, or watch reality
TV. When I asked why, her answer was equally
vague: “I just don’t use them.”
Having gotten similar responses about
semicolons from students over the years, I
commented to her that I had noticed other law
students avoiding semicolons, and usually it was
because they thought they were really difficult to
use. I mentioned that semicolons seem to have
some kind of undeserved mystique and that they
are not only simple to use but also handy to have
in one’s legal writing repertoire.
The rules are simple. (1) Use semicolons to connect sentences that are so closely related that they belong in the same sentence. (2) When your sentence has a series of items that are too long to separate with commas or that have internal punctuation, separate the items with semicolons. You can read Professor Enquist’s article (including examples) here.