How to use a semicolon, Part II

The second main use of the semicolon is to separate items in a list when one item has its own comma.

For example: My favorite books are Gone With the Wind, Alas, Babylon, and The Bronze Bow.

How many books are in that list? Three? Four? Not sure?

It helps to remember that the purpose of punctuation is to make things clear to your readers. So when one item in a list has its own comma, then you need to show your readers where each item starts and stops. In this case, not everyone knows that Alas, Babylon is the title of a terrific book by Pat Frank about the aftermath of a nuclear war in 1950s central Florida. There very well could be a book titled Alas and a book titled Babylon. You have to make things clear to your readers.

Punctuated correctly, that sentence reads like so: My favorite books are Gone With the Wind; Alas, Babylon; and The Bronze Bow.

Notice that you use a semicolon everywhere you’d use a comma, including the comma before the “and,”  which is also known as the Oxford or “serial” comma. I’m a big fan of the serial comma.

I’m all for keeping punctuation to a minimum, or, put another way, I’m for keeping punctuation to the “lowest” level possible. To me, a semicolon is a higher level of punctuation than a comma. I used to think that any sort of internal punctuation in an item in a list would trigger the semicolon rule, but now I don’t. The only way your readers could get confused is if one item has its own comma. An item in a list with a question mark, a colon, or even a semicolon would not confuse a reader; only a comma in an item in a list would cause confusion.

How to use a semicolon, Part I

There are two main uses of the semicolon (;): to join two complete sentences without benefit of a conjunction, and to separate items in a list when one (or more) of the items has a comma of its own.

In the first use, the trick is to imagine a see-saw. (Do we still have see-saws anymore? Maybe I should update my imagery, but this works so well!) So, each side of the see-saw is perfectly balanced, and in the middle is the semicolon: full sentence-semicolon-full sentence.

Example:

I ate the entire pint of Ben & Jerry’s New York Super Chunk Fudge ice cream. It made me sick.

I ate the entire pint of Ben & Jerry’s New York Super Chunk Fudge ice cream, and it made me sick.

I ate the entire pint of Ben & Jerry’s New York Super Chunk Fudge ice cream; it made me sick.

As an author, there are reasons that you’d choose one of these options over another.

In the first example, with the two full sentences, you can almost hear the pause and believe that the second sentence is (possibly) the punch line.

In the second example, with the  comma and “and,” it seems like the “it” refers more to the eating than the ice cream.

In the third example, the one with the semicolon, it seems like the “it” refers more to the ice cream than the act of eating it. (You got sick because you ate this specific flavor of this specific ice cream.)

Bottom line: When you use a semicolon in this way, the material on either side of the semicolon has to be a full sentence. Not a full sentence? No semicolon!

 

 

 

I love you, Randy Rainbow!

Yes, it’s official! I have publicly declared my love for YouTube star Randy Rainbow in The New York Times!

Permalink: https://nyti.ms/2NdtCe5#permid=28486337

If you don’t know Randy, you need to!

“Hey, USA we just elected us a mean girl!”

Genius!!

Here are YouTube.com links to a few of my favorites, but, honey, trust me: they are all great!

Would you pay for this person’s advice?

Question: If someone advertised that he (or she!) is a WordPress “expert” and a “business adviser,” but misspelled the word “adviser,” would you have any confidence whatsoever that his (or her!) advice would be worth, well, anything?

Answer: Hell, no!

But, gee, that’s just what I saw recently on a LinkedIn profile of a self-proclaimed WordPress “expert.” I can’t post the entire sentence, since I just realized that when the sentence is “googled” this person comes up #1 with a bullet, but I can tell you that “adviser” was spelled “adisor.”

It’s kind of like a professional bio I edited recently and the person, who was in a branch of the U. S. military for 20 years, spelled “united,” as in “United States,” as “unted.” He (it’s a “he”) wants to be a professional speaker.

Question: How many misspelled words does it take to ruin your credibility?

Answer: Depends. If you’re an eighth-grader, I’ll cut you some slack. If you are a grown up and are marketing yourself as a professional, you get no slack, especially if the word should have been caught by spell-check.

In fact, if you can’t spell, not only would I not pay for your advice, I wouldn’t take it, even for free!