Ask the Editor: Comma Conundrums Part I…When to Use a Semicolon

Filed in Ask the Editor by on April 4, 2013 0 Comments

Let me take you back to an 8th grade English class. The teacher is saying something about commas, semicolons and conjunctions. You’re pretty much lost, spacing out a bit or writing a note to your crush three seats back. Why is it so hard to remember punctuation rules? It’s probably because technical terms are not the best way to have a long-lasting impact on pre-teens.

Xulon Press Ask the EditorSemicolons separate things, usually two main clauses that are closely related to each other, but could stand on their own as individual sentences. Many writers use them to add variety to the text after a lot of short, choppy sentences have been used.

For example: “The sun was scorching; John wondered if he would get a sunburn.” The parts could be sentences on their own if you put a period between them. The key is that the main clauses must have similar ideas. You wouldn’t write, “The sun was scorching; John read a magazine,” because the ideas aren’t similar.

You would also use a semicolon with coordinating conjunctions: when you write a list and commas don’t do the job. An example would be: “Our editors are Monica from Nashville, Tennessee; Jeremy from Portland, Oregon; and Samantha from Orlando, Florida.” Since each item in the list requires a comma to separate the city from the state, the semicolon should be used to separate the items in the list.

One more way to use a semicolon is when you use a conjunctive adverb to join two main clauses. A conjunctive adverb would be words like however, therefore and incidentally. These adverbs are used to show a cause and effect, or a comparison between ideas. An example would be: “Monica is on vacation; therefore, Jeremy is swamped with editing projects.”

Common Conjunctive Adverbs
Use these with semicolons to join main clauses

Follow these helpful tips in a note to your crush with proper punctuation and he or she just may love you forever. Do you want us to love you? Reply to this post below with your questions and check back next week to see answers!


About the Author ()

Erika Bennett has been a freelance editor for nearly half a decade. Before joining the Xulon team in 2010, she worked with several first time authors who wanted to test the waters of self-publishing. Her aim is to make sure great books find their way into readers' hands.

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