3 Types of Solutions with Semicolons

By Mark Nichol

In each of the following sentences, a structural flaw is easily repaired by use of one or more semicolons in place of one or more commas. Discussion and revision of each example explains the problem and demonstrates the solution.

1. Smith’s father called an ambulance, however, she was pronounced dead at the scene.

However is not parenthetical to the first clause or to the entire sentence. To demonstrate that it applies only to the second clause, a semicolon should precede it: “Smith’s father called an ambulance; however, she was pronounced dead at the scene.” (A simpler alternative with more basic punctuation is “Smith’s father called an ambulance, but she was pronounced dead at the scene.”)

2. Apps can store shoppers’ receipts, gift cards, and shopping lists; present discounts and coupons; enable comparison shopping; make the checkout process simple and fast, and more.

Because “make the checkout process simple and fast” and “and more” are equivalent to each other and to the three previous list items, a semicolon, rather than a comma, is required between them: “Apps can store shoppers’ receipts, gift cards, and shopping lists; present discounts and coupons; enable comparison shopping; make the checkout process simple and fast; and more.”

3. The risks include large-scale terrorist attacks or cyberattacks, failure of national governance, profound social instability, interstate conflict with regional consequences, or state collapse or crisis, food or water crises, extreme weather events, and failure of climate change adaptation, or high structural unemployment or underemployment, asset bubbles in a major economy, or fiscal crises in key economies.

This sentence suffers from a lack of differentiation of several lists of categorically similar phenomena within the sentence, which is essentially a list. To improve readability, separate the sublists by inserting semicolons: “The risks include large-scale terrorist attacks or cyberattacks, failure of national governance, profound social instability, interstate conflict with regional consequences, or state collapse or crisis; food or water crises, extreme weather events, and failure of climate change adaptation; or high structural unemployment or underemployment, asset bubbles in a major economy, or fiscal crises in key economies.” (However, a complex list such as this might be better presented as a vertical bullet list.)

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1 Response to “3 Types of Solutions with Semicolons”

  • Mark

    In the second example (about apps), isn’t the sentence structure an imbalanced parallel? In my mind, each of the items in the list has its own verb, except the end “and more.” Apps can store, present, enable, and make, but apps can’t “more.” Wouldn’t it be better to say “Apps can store shoppers’ receipts, gift cards, and shopping lists; present discounts and coupons; enable comparison shopping; make the checkout process simple and fast; and *do* more?

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