It's another Tuesday (where do these weeks go?) so it's time for another sit down with The Phrase Doctor. This week's topic is the deceptive semicolon. Before I begin, I think it's important to state that particularly in the romance genre, the semicolon is almost like an outlaw. Why this is escapes me, but it leads to a lower level of grammar than need be. I doubt romance readers would run from a book if it contained semicolons. I say, "Free your mind to the beauty of the semicolon!"
Back to our topic. The semicolon is often used incorrectly, which leads to unwelcome fragments. Now keep in mind, sometimes fragments are acceptable. They add flavor and interest if used correctly, but when they're created by incorrect semicolon use, they're just wrong. Flavorless and wrong. (See, that's a comedic fragment. I have a weird sense of humor.)
The easiest way to use the semicolon correctly is to think of it as the grammatical equal sign. Everything on the left side of the semicolon must be a complete sentence, and everything on the right side of the semicolon must be a complete sentence.
I enjoy eating pizza on Friday nights; it's a great way to end the workweek.
However, if I'd written the following, it would be incorrect and contain a fragment:
I enjoy eating pizza on Friday nights; which always makes the workweek end well.
(Something to remember: rarely do sentences that begin with the word which turn into anything but fragments. What's on the right side of the semicolon here is an adjective clause, a dependent clause that can't stand alone. If you want to use it, replace the semicolon with a comma.)
Another thing to remember with semicolons is that they must join sentences that are related to one another. If I had given the following example, it would be correct in the sense that each side has a complete sentence but incorrect because the two sentences have nothing to do with one another.
I enjoy eating pizza on Friday nights; it looks like it's going to rain this afternoon.
So remember that the semicolon isn't evil and when used sparingly (very important) it can be an effective way to join related ideas. Now go forth and use this great form of punctuation well, my friends!
Editor for The Phrase Doctor alongside her partner, Yvonne Glanville, Gabrielle earned a bachelor's degree in English and a master's degree in History, in addition to certification to teach both subjects in high school. After years of teaching college composition courses and history courses, she currently only teaches college students American and European history.
In addition, Gabrielle is an Amazon bestselling author of paranormal and historical erotic romance with her Sons of Navarus series and her Victorian Erotic Romance Trilogy. She's been writing for years, both in fiction and non-fiction, for pleasure and her day job, and began professionally editing over a decade ago.
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