Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Ode to the semicolon

Oh the poor semicolon, it's not quite a colon but it is more than a comma, yet it is often misunderstood. I'll admit that I am not all that knowledgeable on semicolon usage but I've always known you use a semicolon to separate a list of things that started with a colon. I figured that was pretty much the extent of normal semicolon usage. Only those that used the semicolon beyond that rule were just crazy English freaks. Recently though, I've had my eyes open to the proper usage of the semicolon. I had my sister read over a blurb about my research experience and besides her usual comment about my improper comma usage I got a lesson in semicolon usage. At first I thought she was just being crazy because really, no one uses a semicolon, so was it really important that I didn't use any? Apparently it was. She then pointed me to a website that had examples of the proper use of semicolons. I was surprised to find that my favorite words to use in writing all required the use of a semicolon: in addition; however; otherwise; and therefore. Who knew!?! Since becoming enlightened on the proper use of the semicolon I've decided to use it whenever needed. I'm sure when my supervisor reads my thesis he will wonder what's up with all the semicolons, at which point I will direct him to the website. After all, scientists may write papers but that doesn't mean they actually understand proper writing style. I, however, will be trying to change science writing one semicolon at a time. Now just to grasp the usage of the comma. I've never properly understood the comma.By the way, I'm sure I've missed a comma or semicolon somewhere in this post. Be nice, I'm a scientist.

10 comments:

ScienceWoman said...

What I learned was that if you have two parts of a sentence that could be separate complete sentences, you should use a semicolon. I think that is a clearer rule than trying to remember transition words. Just my two cents.

bfy said...

I learned the same rule as sciencewoman. I am shocked to find out that a semicolon instead of a comma is required after however and other similar words.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Your sister sounds very smart, amazing, and brilliant. You should really listen to her more often. You are the luckiest person in the whole world to have a sister like that!

ScienceGeek said...

Hmm... that post by anonymous sounds oddly like something my sister would say.

Anonymous said...

Ya don't HAVE to use it when you start a sentence with transition words like however, therefore, etc... In fact, a period usually works better.

Margo said...

It goes before the however, therefore, etc. and those items are then set off by a comma before the next full sentence begins. To whit: I am sure of my use of the semi-colon; however, most people are not. See, it is just an extension of the rule of combining two full sentences: I am sure of my use of the semi-colon; most people are not. The "however" is inserted to make the logic of the connection clearer. Whenever we insert extra material in any sentence, we set it off by commas, but in this case we have inserted it between two full sentences, so we use the semi-colon rule. I have never heard of using it to separate teh items listed after a colon; usually a simple comma will do there.

Anonymous said...

I know this is an old post, but I wanted to mention that I'm all for more semi-colon usage! My own advisor has actual called its usage "pretentious", which I first thought was weird, then, rude. Cheers to your sister my friend and to your "evolution" out of the often murky academic waters.

Kurt

The English Clergyman said...

This is an old post, but here's something I wrote about it:

http://thinkinggrounds.blogspot.com/2008/11/blog-post.html

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