3 Sentences with Unnecessary Semicolons

By Mark Nichol

Semicolons, used to separate two independent clauses or two or more words and/or phrases in a list when at least one phrase is itself a list whose items are separated by commas, are sometimes erroneously employed when those conditions do not exist. Here are three such sentences, each followed by a discussion and a revision.

1. The regulation extends the civil market abuse regime to new markets and instruments; adds extraterritorial scope; and introduces a new offence of attempted market manipulation.

A long sentence that lists several things with extended phrasing does not merit semicolons; commas are sufficient the separate the elements: “The regulation extends the civil market abuse regime to new markets and instruments, adds extraterritorial scope, and introduces a new offence of attempted market manipulation.”

2. The organization saw an opportunity to connect more clearly with a multitude of stakeholder expectations; position risk in the context of an enterprise’s performance, rather than as the focus of an isolated exercise; and enable organizations to become more anticipatory.

This sentence does not require semicolons, either—“rather than as the focus of an isolated exercise” is clearly parenthetical to the second item, not part of a list within a list: “The organization saw an opportunity to connect more clearly with a multitude of stakeholder expectations, position risk in the context of an enterprise’s performance, rather than as the focus of an isolated exercise, and enable organizations to become more anticipatory.” (Notice how each item begins with a verb, signaling a clear syntactical structure.)

3. Advances in digital technologies—including intelligent devices and machines; virtual reality; mobile technologies; cloud computing; social business; and smart grids, factories, and cities in an app-centric world—are driving disruptive change.

Only one item in this list itself consists of a list, and it is the last item, so no confusion about the organization of the sentence is likely: “Advances in digital technologies—including intelligent devices and machines, virtual reality, mobile technologies, cloud computing, social business, and smart grids, factories, and cities in an app-centric world—are driving disruptive change.”

An alternative is to set the final item apart from the others: “Advances in digital technologies—including intelligent devices and machines, virtual reality, mobile technologies, cloud computing, and social business, as well as smart grids, factories, and cities, in an app-centric world—are driving disruptive change.” This version also avoids the cluttered look of a semicolon-laden sentence, though it makes the sentence slightly more complex.

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2 Responses to “3 Sentences with Unnecessary Semicolons”

  • Dave Creek

    Semi-colons aside, I’d say the main problem with those sentences is that they’re pretty much content-free. I have no idea what a “civil market abuse regime” is. I know what a market is, but not an “instrument” in this context. I don’t think it refers to a guitar or trumpet.

    If this was meant for a business audience that might know this stuff, fine. But I still prefer more straightforward writing.

    Props for using active voice, though.

  • Dale A. Wood

    Thank you, Mr. Nichol. This is a fine article about the use of semicolons, with three good examples. The third one is by far the worst of the three, and it makes me wonder if the writer had forgotten what a comma is.

    On a side note, I dislike the slang word “app”. We had a pretty good word for that already: a “computer program”. With the wide scale use of the “app”, people will and do come to the confusion that an “app” and a “program” are two different things. That’s bad.

    Probably, some people think that a “program” and a “programme” are two different things, also. Maybe they think that a “program” is something that you take to a sporting event or a classical music concert, but a “programme” is something for computers and television systems. LOL!

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