There are few things in this world that irritate me more than seeing a semicolon misused. I have no special affinity for the semicolon, nor have I taken up a useless cause just as an excuse to rant. No, this is a genuine problem that I have seen too many times to count: people misuse the semicolon.
Whether by replacing the punctuation mark with an ellipse or an "em" dash, or (heaven help me) a comma, the semicolon continues to be the isolated punctuation mark, the black sheep of the keyboard. I feel that through education about the semicolon, though, that people might just learn how to use it. Side note: Some people think that you can't use a semicolon in fiction; that is just wrong. If you couldn't use them, why are they even on the keyboard at all?
Okay, so here's how to use a semicolon:
- 1. Use a semicolon between closely related clauses in a sentence without a coordinating conjunction.
- Example: Ryan likes strawberry ice cream; I prefer vanilla.
- 2. Use a semicolon between independent clauses linked with a transitional word (conjunctive adverbs), such as accordingly, finally, nevertheless, etc.
- Example: The seventy-mile drive remains a difficult task; therefore, tenacity is required.
- 3. Use a semicolon between items in a series containing internal punctuation.
- Example: Some of the people responsible for my arrest in Peru were: the police officer, who smelled of carp and baked beans; the taxi driver, whose mother-in-law, I learned on the trip to Lima, is a vegetarian; and the snake handler, who had a nasty penchant for biting fingernails... other people's.
And those are the only times a semicolon is used. Throwing them all over your writing will not make you look smarter; only correct use of the punctuation mark can do that.