The Semicolon: My Favorite Punctuation Mark

Let me say one thing right off: I am very fond of semicolons. Others don’t share that view, I know, probably because the rules for their use can be confusing. I, on the other hand, have never had any problems with them; I’ve always found them easy to use.

They are, in fact, my favorite punctuation mark. Semicolons are easy to get along with, unlike some others: Question marks often require a response; exclamation marks can be unsettling when one meets words like “Fire!” or “Watch out!” and they can be overwhelming when people use too many of them; periods can bring readers to an abrupt halt. Semicolons, on the other hand, give us a long pause and time to collect our thoughts and adjust our thinking, then allow us to continue on the same reading track as before.

I tried to find out when writers first began using semicolons. One site said their use dated back to the Greeks and reflected earlier liturgical use. Another said they were a device used in the late fifteenth century for abbreviating words. And another site reported that the earliest general use of semicolons in English was in 1591 and that Ben Jonson was the first notable English writer to use them. I did learn that there was a semicolon used in a 1609 edition of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Their use has grown steadily with the years and now they can be found in everyday use in many languages.

If you have problems knowing how and when to use semicolons, you might check out one of the many online writing labs hosted on university websites. Two of the best, in my opinion, are the OWL, the Online Writing Lab at Purdue University, and the Learning Center’s Online Writing Lab at D’Youville College in Buffalo, New York. Both serve writers from all over the world and both are valuable sources for all kinds of writing help, including specific examples for the proper use of semicolons. I wish I could post some of the examples here, but they are all under copyright.

Visit the sites once and you’ll return again and again whenever you need help with grammar or punctuation.

© 2008 by Laverne Daley

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8 Comments on “The Semicolon: My Favorite Punctuation Mark”

  1. Peggy says:

    None of the ad writers I used to proofread for liked semicolons. Several of them said they were “too formal.” Maybe it’s a tone thing. Not sure. I’ve found myself avoiding them in blogging though!

    I do try to write short sentences, so maybe that’s why I don’t use them as much as I did in Eng lit.

  2. ldaley says:

    I’ve not done much ad writing (it’s not my favorite kind of writing) but if I were, I think I wouldn’t use semicolons in ads either. They don’t seem like a natural fit with ads. And I can understand others calling them “too formal.” They’re not you’re eveyday comma.
    I do like semicolons for other writing. They’re handy for keeping things organized. Haven’t checked, but I believe I may have used a lot of them in blogging.
    BTW, Peggy, I read your blogs every day. I know about two of them. Do you have others?

  3. Peggy says:

    Laverne, Thanks for reading. I have Tree Hugging Family, Junk Creation and a personal one on WP.com – Light Green Stairs (though I haven’t updated LGS much lately).

    I’m hoping to add another one that’s my own creation soon.

  4. ldaley says:

    Oh, I had forgotten about Tree Hugging Family, but I do read it. All three of your blogs are on the “I Read” section of my blog and I click on them every day. Let me know when your next one is up and running so I can add it to my list.

    You must be a very organized person to juggle so much. I’ve had trouble just posting to this blog due to deadlines, etc. I just made my deadline Thursday on a profile for the University of Memphis Magazine, and several other projects and articles are still competing for my writing time. Please tell me how you manage all the writing that you do.

  5. Peggy says:

    Laverne,

    I mostly update my blogs at night. It can be time-consuming, but not always. You probably write many more articles than I do! : )

  6. Magazine writing is what I like to do most of all. If you’re at Barnes & Noble, you might check out one of my latest, “Mining for Ideas” in the July/August issue of Writer’s Journal. A short piece and fun to write. LD

  7. Peggy says:

    Laverne, I will try to check out your story. I sometimes go to Hastings instead since it’s closer, but I think they’d have it too.

    Congrats.

  8. ldaley says:

    Thank you, Peggy.


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