Semicolons are often misused, inspiring both love and hate from professional wordsmiths. But with a proper understanding of their purpose, they can become one of your favorite punctuation marks. Here are a few pointers to help you put them to work correctly in your writing.
• Use a semicolon to heap on more clauses to a sentence. Anita walked up to the office manager, a request for more highlighters in hand; she silently dared him to judge her.
• Use them in a list where commas are already in play, separating ideas in a sentence. She thought of excuses to give Charles; that she really liked highlighting things; that her boss ordered her to ask for them; that someone was stealing them from her.
• Use the semicolon as a clue to the reader that something important follows. Charles sensed Anita was not in a good way; he dodged her gaze, and sat eerily, silent eyes fixed on his computer monitor.
• Use semicolons to make lists easier to read. Charles ran through the list of options: blue, black or red pens; black or blue dry erase markers; pink, green or orange highlighters; and yellow or white notepads.
• Use the semicolon as a substitute for the word “moreover.” If you can use “moreover” to connect two ideas in a sentence, consider replacing it with the svelte semicolon. Anita gripped the supply bag; the staples ground into her palm, though she barely noticed.
Try these tips and you’ll be working semicolons into your writing like a pro.