I did mention that I would discuss grammar in this new blog, but this is such a far-reaching subject that it’s impossible to cover everything. I’ve decided that I will dedicate the next few blog issues purely to different aspects of grammar that I personally feel are important to the writer. The first topic I wish to discuss is the use of the semi-colon (arguably this is more the subject of punctuation, a specific branch of grammar, but for simplification, I won’t discuss this distinction here).
I’ve browsed some articles calling writers ‘pretentious’ if they use this punctuation mark (namely the negative view on semi-colons is attributed to Kurt Vonnegut), and it’s extremely disheartening. Personally, I feel that it’s narrow-minded to ban the use of a particular punctuation mark, or even a certain word class (ie. a lot of people dislike adverbs). However, I do agree that certain things should be used in moderation – the semi-colon being an example.
For anyone who argues that a ‘semi-colon’ denotes a pretentious writer, I would be interested to hear a good reason to support this line of thought. This punctuation mark is no different from any other. It serves its own unique purpose and offers a creative alternative to sentence structuring. Here are three reasons why I feel that using semi-colons in moderation should not be an issue:
- Semi-colons add variety to help the writer avoid too many short, choppy sentences, or the dull use of a repetitive ‘and’ structure.
- This punctuation mark serves to indicate a pause that is longer than a comma, but not as final as a full stop. Therefore, if you want to avoid short, choppy sentences, but require a longer pause for impact/emphasis, you may wish to consider a semi-colon (nb. for information on the correct usage of this punctuation mark, I always refer to Grammarly: https://www.grammarly.com/handbook/punctuation/semicolon/).
- Semi-colons indicate that two separate clauses, which could act as stand-alone sentences, are closely related. You can use a semi-colon as a creative way to indicate cause and effect e.g. ‘The bus was delayed by five minutes; I was late to work.’
- Semi-colons have a poetic effect; they guide the reader into the most effective way of relaying the passage by managing pace and impact.
So what are your thoughts? Semi-colon, friend or foe? If you have any particular examples of authors using semi-colons effectively, please do feel free to share. This has been a short post because the point was not to discuss how to use a semi-colon (which can be obtained from any grammar site), but to divulge my thoughts on the debate on whether we should use this punctuation mark. This link provides a good follow-up article on the ‘misunderstood semi-colon’: http://thewritepractice.com/the-poor-misunderstood-semicolon/.