Saturday, 13 July 2013

In praise of the semi-colon

I love the semi-colon; the elegant little half-way pause, something between a comma and a full stop. I use it a lot, and would be lost without it.

This was brought home to me by a book I'm reading at the moment. It's an interesting true story, but for me,  spoilt by bad writing (this is even worse, because it's ghosted, so someone was paid to do the actual writing). While reading this book, it suddenly struck me that the writer doesn't use a single semi-colon anywhere in the book; and boy, does it need them! The sentences are either short and abrupt, or long and rambling, with only commas for pauses. And commas are not enough.

Is the use of semi-colons (and colons) taught in schools? I've no idea. But if it were given half the attention that seems to be lavished on the ubiquitous exclamation mark, then the world of writing would be a better place! (And that was an exclamation.)

24 comments:

  1. If you look closely, Frances, you'll probably find that I hardly write a post without using the semicolon - that one is MY favourite punctuation mark, followed closely by the - (and I have a penchant for using brackets).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Meike, I MEANT the semi-colon! I think the heat has got to me. I like colons too, but the semi-colon is my favourite. Thanks for (inadvertently)pointing out my mistake. I have altered this post accordingly!

      Delete
  2. I'm a semi-colon fan too, Frances, and if I use an exclamation mark, I have to be really sure I need it. I prefer it if I can make the sentence itself convey the surprise.

    ReplyDelete
  3. We're just home for a trip to British Columbia, where I visited my family and attended my 50-year high school graduation reunion. We are all so pleased we learned writing and punctuation as part of the regular curriculum, because both seem to have gone the way of all good things.
    K

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think a lot has gone in the interests of making learning "fun". Very sad.

      Delete
  4. You'll be pleased to know, Frances, that I taught both colons and semi colons in my primary school.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I too like semi-colons. I'll start scattering a few into my posts; what I dislike is the use of a comma or semi-colon before or after conjunctions.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ah, Adrian, so you are not a fan of the Oxford Comma. I must do a post on that.

      Delete
    2. I think the Oxford comma is optional (just my opinion).

      Delete
  6. I like all punctuation marks.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I'm a fan of the colon more than the semicolon (sic) although I use both. Generally speaking in modern usage I suspect that few people, if you ask them, would be able to define their purpose.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I like both, but in the right place, GB.

      Delete
  8. I like semi-colons too, Frances, but did tend to use too many until recently so now I've started making two sentences at times. I think they're probably used less by some publishers now. Like Patsy, I like all punctuation!

    ReplyDelete
  9. I don't remember ever being taught about them, and I'm still a little shy of using them. We all need colonic initiation.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Clare, you certainly don't come across as shy....?

    ReplyDelete
  11. I use the semi-colon all the time; sometimes I worry that others may pause and notice.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Oh dear, I'm starting to scrutinize everything I read now to see if I can find any: very few about.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think there ar more than you think there are, Maggie. It's when there aren't enough that I notice them. (In the end, the book I mentioned had just one!)

      Delete