# Punctuation Quiz #8: Strong-Comma Semicolons

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

1. We just need to meet this recall movement head on; turn a bad thing into a good thing; and move toward reforming the city for everybody.

2. The possible color combinations are green, blue, and red; green, blue, and yellow; green, red, and yellow; blue, red, and yellow.

3. The band was playing when gusting winds blew the helicopter carrying him; his girlfriend, Jane Smith; and his pilot, John Doe, into an electrical tower.

4. The three cities Iâ€™ve live in are Boston, Baltimore, and Albany, New York.

5. For my imaginary dinner guests, I chose John Doe, a nineteenth-century philosopher, Jane Roe, one of the first female mathematicians, and James Smith, an early paleontologist.

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. These sentences include list items that may or may not necessitate use of semicolons for the second function (sometimes referred to as the strong-comma function):

1.
Original: We just need to meet this recall movement head on; turn a bad thing into a good thing; and move toward reforming the city for everybody.
Correct : We just need to meet this recall movement head on, turn a bad thing into a good thing, and move toward reforming the city for everybody.

Semicolons are not appropriate for separating simple list items, even if theyâ€™re long phrases.

2.
Original: The possible color combinations are green, blue, and red; green, blue, and yellow; green, red, and yellow; blue, red, and yellow.
Correct : The possible color combinations are green, blue, and red; green, blue, and yellow; green, red, and yellow; and blue, red, and yellow.

When the final semicolon in a complex series of items replaces a serial comma, it should be followed by a conjunction, just as a serial comma should.

3.
Original: The band was playing when gusting winds blew the helicopter carrying him; his girlfriend, Jane Smith; and his pilot, John Doe, into an electrical tower.
Correct : The band was playing when gusting winds blew the helicopter carrying him, as well as his girlfriend, Jane Smith, and his pilot, John Doe, into an electrical tower.

A phrase that applies to items separated by semicolons should not end the sentence, as it will appear to apply only to the final item; instead, recast the sentence.

4.
Original: The three cities Iâ€™ve live in are Boston, Baltimore, and Albany, New York.
Correct : The three cities Iâ€™ve live in are Boston, Baltimore, and Albany, New York.

A semicolon is not necessary when only one list item includes a comma and that item is located at or can be moved to the end of the sentence. This sentence is correct. (However, note this version: “The three cities Iâ€™ve live in, in chronological order, are Albany, New York; Boston; and Baltimore.” The state in which a major city is located usually does not need to be identified, and the state name is generally not included for consistent treatment.)

5.
Original: For my imaginary dinner guests, I chose John Doe, a nineteenth-century philosopher, Jane Roe, one of the first female mathematicians, and James Smith, an early paleontologist.
Correct : For my imaginary dinner guests, I chose John Doe, a nineteenth-century philosopher; Jane Roe, one of the first female mathematicians; and James Smith, an early paleontologist.

Although this sentence organizes names and descriptions in a straightforward manner, itâ€™s best to observe the basic rule and use a semicolon after the first two descriptions. (However, constructions such as the following are clear without using semicolons to separate the choices: “If you think itâ€™s true, write T, if you think itâ€™s false, write F, and if youâ€™re not sure, write X.”)

### Stop making those embarrassing mistakes! Subscribe to Daily Writing Tips today!

You will improve your English in only 5 minutes per day, guaranteed!

You'll also get three bonus ebooks completely free!

### 3 thoughts on “Punctuation Quiz #8: Strong-Comma Semicolons”

1. Thanks, Mark!

With today’s almost-illiterate younger generation, I often wonder how much punctuation, grammar, and spelling they notice as they spew out improper they’re, there, their, and countless other stupidities.

Thanks to Vonnegut, I do monitor semicolon usage, but modern acceptance of sentence fragments renders those pesky little critters less necessary than when I went to school. Yeah, it was before Noah, but â€¦

2. “Yeah, it was before Noah…”
LOL – LOL !
Before Noah Webster or before THE NOAH ??
Should we call them “Little Noah” and “Big Noah”?
D.A.W.

3. All this talk about using semicolons and the author fails to use the present perfect correctly in example number 4.