The Semicolon: My Favorite Punctuation MarkPosted: June 8, 2008
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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