Thursday, May 24, 2007

Writing for Grammar: Common Semicolon Mistakes

The following examples illustrate two common semicolon mistakes with alternatives to correct the problem by changing the punctuation or by rewriting the sentence to conform to the semicolon rule:

Reviewing the Rules:
  • The semicolon is used to separate major sentence elements of equal grammatical rank by taking the place of conjunctions such as: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, or so (FANBOYS).
  • The other main use for a semicolon is between items in a series that contain internal punctuation so we can keep them all straight.
Example 1

Mistake:
After driving in circles, Peter finally found the restaurant; the Quiche Cuisine.
(grammatically unequal elements - clause ; phrase)

New punctuation:
After driving in circles, Peter finally found the restaurant, the Quiche Cuisine.

Rewriting:
After driving in circles, Peter finally found the restaurant; the Quiche Cuisine was worth it.
(grammatically equal elements – clause ; clause)

Example 2

Mistake:
He scanned the shopping list: eggs; butter, sugar, and flour.

New punctuation:
He scanned the shopping list: eggs, butter, sugar, and flour.

Rewriting:
He scanned the shopping list: eggs, an easy meal; butter, nice on toast; sugar, adds a kick to his coffee; and flour, in case he wanted to make Susan’s birthday cake from scratch.

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