3 Types of Superfluous Use of Semicolons

By Mark Nichol

Proper use of semicolons is sometimes seen as such a challenge that some teachers of composition recommend not using them until one develops a more sophisticated grasp of language, which is akin to saying one should hold off on learning the more complicated letters of the alphabet until one is ready for them. The following examples, however, point out that some writers need to study the functions of the punctuation mark.

1. Banks must keep pace with rapidly developing technologies; and this requires organizations to transform how they develop new apps and software.

One of the functions of the semicolon is to separate independent clauses that are closely associated in cases in which the strength of the period is not necessary. In this case, a simple comma, teaming up with a conjunction, suffices to distinguish the two clauses: “Banks must keep pace with rapidly developing technologies, and this requires organizations to transform how they develop new apps and software.” (A semicolon should not precede a conjunction unless the punctuation mark and the word are part of a complex list structured something like “a, b, and c; d, e, and f; and g, h, and i.)

2. It is one thing to determine that a hundred million dollars in synergies can be achieved; it is another matter to actually achieve those savings; and still another matter for the savings to be reflected in the financial statements.

The first semicolon in this sentence is used correctly, but the second one is not; the phrase beginning with and should be part of the second independent clause (the one beginning “it is another matter”): “It is one thing to determine that a hundred million dollars in synergies can be achieved; it is another matter to actually achieve those savings and still another matter for the savings to be reflected in the financial statements.” Alternatively, the final point can be bolstered with its own pronoun and verb and set off as one of three sentence segments separated by commas: “It is one thing to determine that a hundred million dollars in synergies can be achieved, it is another matter to actually achieve those savings, and it is still another matter for the savings to be reflected in the financial statements.”

3. They must continuously direct scarce resources to sustain vital government activities and services; they must manage their operations in the face of constantly changing circumstances; and they must provide assurance to various stakeholders that they can protect and enhance their organizations.

Here, three phrases are separated as if they are independent clauses. It is true that the three phrases can stand on their own as such, but they are also serviceable as simple list items, as shown here: “They must continuously direct scarce resources to sustain vital government activities and services, they must manage their operations in the face of constantly changing circumstances, and they must provide assurance to various stakeholders that they can protect and enhance their organizations.” (Semicolons are necessary in place of the commas only if one or more of the phrases itself uses punctuation to separate items in a list.)

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3 Responses to “3 Types of Superfluous Use of Semicolons”

  • D.A.W.

    I recently found out that the Ancient Greeks did not have any lower-case letters. All of the “squiggly” lower-case ones were added by scribes during Medieval times.
    Hence, there were a lot of Ancient Greek letters that I can type easily because they were adopted by the Romans:
    A, E, H, I, K, M, N, O, P, R, T, U, X, Y, Z.
    As we can see, the Greek letter omicron (O) is not used very much by us, especially since its lower case is “o”.
    The Romans then either added some letters of their own, or modified the Greek ones, to get B, C, D, F, G, L, Q, and S.
    During medieval times, western scholars added some more letters to the alphabet:
    J, V, and W.
    Somehow, in the process, zeta got “demoted” to the last letter in the alphabet, in the place of omega.

  • D.A.W.

    We use Greek letters a lot in mathematics, engineering, and mathematics, and to some people this is difficult. At Georgia Tech, we had the understanding that Professor Meliopolis not only knew all of the letters of the Greek alphabet, but he knew how to pronounce them, too! I never had him as a teacher, but I did have Professor Polydorous in a course at the Univ. of Southern California. The last that I heard from him, he had returned to Greece to take a position at a technical university there.

  • D.A.W.

    A long time ago, I read a children’s book that was absolutely fascinating. I do not know if it was by Dr. Seuss or not, but it was written in that style. This book was about all of the letters of the alphabet that come after Z.
    Wow! Please have a great grasp of the first 26 letters before you carry on to the rest.

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