Here are my responses to three recent queries from readers about various punctuation matters.
1. In the sentence “I went to school, although I was feeling ill,” is the comma correct, or is it optional where the meaning is clear?
Most subordinating conjunctions require no preceding comma (for example, consider sentences in which before, if, or when bridge two independent clauses), but those that come before a contrasting statement, such as one that begins with although and whereas, should be preceded by one.
2. In the following sentence, is the use of single inverted commas correct, or incorrect?: “I thought to myself, ‘It’s a good thing that we are going down the stairs, as I would never be able to climb them back.’”
For internal thoughts, format as you have done, or italicize thoughts instead of enclosing them in inverted commas (or quotation marks, as they’re usually called in the United States). Here’s a post I wrote on the topic.
3. Today I wrote the sentence “The assessment is no longer required for technologists; only managers and higher.” I wasn’t sure which punctuation to use where the semicolon is. A comma wouldn’t provide a long enough pause to get my point across. I toyed with the idea of a colon, but it didn’t seem quite right. I went with a semicolon because “only managers and higher” seemed like a truncated independent clause. Seeing it now (after clicking Send), I think it maybe should have been a dash. What do you think?
I think that a comma is sufficient in this sentence, but, yes, for more emphasis, I would use an em dash (and follow it with “only for managers and higher”). A colon isn’t appropriate, because what follows is a comparison of sorts, not an expansion or definition. To merit a semicolon, what follows would have to be explicitly constructed as an independent clause, not just an abbreviated version of one.