Praises to the Correct Use of The Semicolon

By Daniel Scocco

Lana, one of our readers, pointed me to a very interesting article over the NY Times. Titled Celebrating the Semicolon in a Most Unlikely Location, the article describes how the reporter was pleasantly surprised by finding an erudite and correct use of the semicolon on a subway sign.

“Please put it in a trash can,” riders are reminded. After which Neil Neches, an erudite writer in the transit agency’s marketing and service information department, inserted a semicolon. The rest of the sentence reads, “that’s good news for everyone.”

Semicolon sightings in the city are unusual, period, much less in exhortations drafted by committees of civil servants. In literature and journalism, not to mention in advertising, the semicolon has been largely jettisoned as a pretentious anachronism.

The article argues that most people avoid using the semicolon merely because they are not sure about it.

We covered it in the past, specifically outlining the differences between the colon and the semicolon.

If you need a reminder, the article itself describes how it should be used:

Americans, in particular, prefer shorter sentences without, as style books advise, that distinct division (the semicolon) between statements that are closely related but require a separation more prolonged than a conjunction and more emphatic than a comma.

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4 Responses to “Praises to the Correct Use of The Semicolon”

  • Billy Mize

    Is, in the past, already, redundant? A couple of definitions of already, are before and previous.

    Thanks for your blog and website.

  • Mikael Høilund

    I, too, am an semicoliphile. Given the current treatment the poor Danish language is going through in this day and age, it’s a relief to see the use of this unfortunately underused typographical mark. It’s too bad there’s so little use for it 🙁

  • Sumesh

    Skipping semicolons is more of a problem with those following American English than British English, methinks.

    Atleast I follow Brit English ^-^

  • Mike Maynard

    I’m English and went to a traditional English grammar school. My English master was traditional and although he went to Oxbridge advised against the Oxford comma; I also use semicolons where appropriate. I avoid words that aren’t in everyday use. I don’t expect my readers to carry a dictionary around with them. The use of words that aren’t in everyday use is pretentious. American writers appear to love unusual words and put as many long words in a sentence as possible; spelling them simply and abandon the semi colon!

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