August 12, 2008
This past weekend, there was an article in The Boston Globe about the suffering semicolon. Apparently, semicolon usage has dropped dramatically over the past few hundred years. To make matters worse, there are people out there saying some mean and hurtful things about these defenseless punctuation marks, calling them “girly,” “hermaphroditic,” and (gasp!) “utterly useless.”
Before this gets entirely out of hand, let’s take a moment to learn about the proper usage of the semicolon:
Use semicolons to link independent clauses sharing the same general ideas.
A semicolon indicates a longer pause than a comma and a shorter pause than a period:
It was dark and quiet out yesterday; I was very productive.
Our hike was long and arduous; moreover, it was 90 degrees out.
Use semicolons between elements when items in a series contain material that is set off by commas.
In this case, the semicolon acts as a “supercomma”:
This summer, I visited many cities: Hudson, Wis.; Shelton, Conn.; Newport, R.I.; Boston, Mass.; and York, Maine.
What’s so girly and useless about that?