Grammar Quiz #3: Weak-Period Semicolons

By Mark Nichol

All but one of the following sentences incorrectly employs or omits a semicolon; revise sentences as necessary to demonstrate correct use of punctuation:

1. In 2000, the figure was 57 percent; in 2004, 63 percent.

2. We have come this far, we can’t give up now.

3. Sometimes she was willing to share these with the class and to read aloud, sometimes she wanted to remove herself from class discussions.

4. He understands diffusion, osmosis, facilitated diffusion, concentration gradients, pores, and pumps; all processes essential to understanding life systems.

5. This number includes shimmering salmon blocked from their upriver migration in the Northwest; and the ancient sturgeon that once spawned in thirty-five coastal rivers from Maine to Florida and is now confined to two.

Answers and Explanations

Semicolons serve one of two functions: They separate two independent clauses in a sentence when no conjunction links the clauses, and they separate items in run-in lists when at least one of the items is itself a list or otherwise includes a comma. Each of these sentences either requires a semicolon in place of a comma because the punctuation separates independent clauses, or it has a semicolon that should be a comma because the clauses are not independent:

1.
Original: In 2000, the figure was 57 percent; in 2004, 63 percent.
Correct : In 2000, the figure was 57 percent; in 2004, 63 percent.

When a sentence consists of two parallel independent clauses but the repetition of part of the second clause is omitted because the elided phrase is implied, a semicolon should still be used despite the fact that the second clause appears not to be independent. This sentence, in which repetition of the phrase “the figure was” has been omitted between the second year and the second percentage, is correct.

2.
Original: We have come this far, we can’t give up now.
Correct : We have come this far; we can’t give up now.

3.
Original: Sometimes she was willing to share these with the class and to read aloud, sometimes she wanted to remove herself from class discussions.
Correct : Sometimes, she was willing to share these with the class and to read aloud; sometimes, she wanted to remove herself from class discussions.

4.
Original: He understands diffusion, osmosis, facilitated diffusion, concentration gradients, pores, and pumps; all processes essential to understanding life systems.
Correct : He understands diffusion, osmosis, facilitated diffusion, concentration gradients, pores, and pumps, all processes essential to understanding life systems.

5.
Original: This number includes shimmering salmon blocked from their upriver migration in the Northwest; and the ancient sturgeon that once spawned in thirty-five coastal rivers from Maine to Florida and is now confined to two.
Correct : This number includes shimmering salmon blocked from their upriver migration in the Northwest and the ancient sturgeon that once spawned in thirty-five coastal rivers from Maine to Florida and is now confined to two.

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4 Responses to “Grammar Quiz #3: Weak-Period Semicolons”

  • Roberta B.

    I still disagree with #4. I believe it is correct to write “She made it on to the girls basketball team.” The term “girls” describes the team, not girls’ as a possessive. The team is made up of girls, not the team belongs to the girls. The one I see frequently is Homeowners Association. It is an association comprised of homeowners…….even though they typically do own both their homes and the association.

  • venqax

    I tend to agree with Roberta B. Whenever there is a choice between using an apostrophe and not, I vote not. My personal irritant on this is the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, which could have preferably been the Department of Veterans Affairs. In that case the affairs do belong to veterans, generally speaking (;) but they are also affairs that simply have to do with veterans.

    Why are Mother’s and Father’s Days written as singulars? That does not seem to make any sense. The days commemorate mothers and fathers as a class of people. It’s not, Ed’s Mother’s Day or the Day for Hilda’s Father.

  • Dale A. Wood

    So right, so right, so right is the correction!
    Original: The assignment is to identify and discuss “Great Expectations”’s theme.
    Correct : The assignment is to identify and discuss the theme of “Great Expectations.”
    As I have mentioned before, I think that SO MANY writers are mentally handicapped about prepositional phrases nowadays. They cannot create them or use them correctly, though sometimes they can use fixed phrases like “The United States of America,” “the War of 1812,” “the city by the sea,” “He ran out of his burning house sans clothing,” and maybe even “Frankfurt am Main,” but w/o realizing that this one has a prepositional phrase in it.”
    There was a case recently in which someone pointed out how ugly the term “statistics’s” is. Well, the word “statistics” does not even have a possessive, either, and this was not pointed out. Inanimate objects and abstract ideas are incapable of possessing anything, and so they do not have possessive cases. So, we need to write and say things like “the difficulty of statistics” and “the chairman of the department of statistics.”

  • Dale A. Wood

    There is a prominent episode of the original series of STAR TREK, one that starred Joan Collins. Most writers of today would not write the title of it this way, and they are possibly baffled by it:
    “The City on the Edge of Forever”. Two prepositional phrases in series.
    Equally baffling to many are titles like “From Russia with Love”.

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