Saturday, January 26, 2013

When To Use Semicolons

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.


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