Iron Pen - Battle: Comma versus Semicolon  

Friday, November 28, 2008

I am by no means a grammatical expert and believe me there is no chance that I could ever pass for one, but as of late I have become fascinated with learning all of the shamefully wicked rules that the grammar snobs like to throw in your face. My first college English professor had the greatest jokes about said grammar hounds. Sadly I cannot recall one of his best ones but believe me it was hilarious. He was a riot that one.

Now the basic rules for comma and semicolon (and other common grammar) usage have been around for ages, but those grammar snobs above are the ones who reprimand the masses for every inadvertent misuse with a howling, "Use it right or DIE!!"

Needless to say, I keep several grammar handbooks an arms length away from me at all times to combat said remarks.

Now for this battle, which happens to be my absolute favorite, the question asked is, "Should I use a comma here, or a semicolon?

In my experience, if you have to ask, then you were probably meant to use a semicolon. After all, it is the comma that is widely overused and not the innocent, defenseless semicolon. For arguments sake, though, there are some people who like to toss a semicolon in at every chance they get to look smart --they don't. I love the semicolon and I've even found that I use it right about 90% of the time (hey, I have my days). I especially loved wowing my English professor(s) with the correct use of them in my essays.

In the misuser's defense, I don't EVER remember being actually taught the proper use of a semicolon by a real live teacher. It's just something I picked up along the way. So, maybe that is the case for them, as well. I know for a fact that my professor doesn't care if you use commas in place of a semicolon, but if you do use one you better use it right. I recall on one of my recent essay drafts being caught using a semicolon between a dependent and an independent clause (my excuse for this was that I changed my sentence at the last minute...yeah right).

I do believe that said grammar snobs are debating demoting the semicolon because he's (she's?) so misunderstood. Hopefully the more polite and sympathetic grammar fairies will save him.

The Comma:

  • In a compound sentence (the easiest and most common use) - Sarah and I are best friends, but we rarely get to see each other.
  • Between items in a series - Sarah spends a great deal of time reading, playing sports, and killing puppies.
  • After introductory clauses and phrases - Being a narcissist, Sarah often stares at herself in the mirror for hours.

There are other comma rules, but these uses are the ones closely related to the semicolon uses.

The Semicolon:

  • Separating Independent clauses (oh, stop your snickering) - I loved Sarah to death; she will be greatly missed.
  • Separating items in a series - Sarah was banned from Las Vegas, Nevada; Los Angeles, California; and Miami, Florida.

Now, if you'd like to have a laugh at the poor semicolon's expense, read this article:

I should inform you that I like to get my grammar on as often as possible. When the grammar fairies visit me and give me inspiration they demand immediate action. So, this will not be the last Iron Pen post.

Thank you my friends, and enjoy your day (or what's left of the night)!

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2 comments: to “ Iron Pen - Battle: Comma versus Semicolon

  • Dick
    November 29, 2008 at 12:15 AM  

    'I don't EVER remember being actually taught the proper use of a semicolon by a real live teacher'. As a teacher I was a great proselytiser for the correct use of the semi-colon. Wedded firmly to the notion of English as a living, breathing language, it was the only bit of pure mechanics I ever taught prescriptively.

  • Miss Young Author
    November 29, 2008 at 6:37 AM  

    I'm so sad now. If you had been my teacher then maybe I'd have been a fan of the semicolon much sooner. I would have had many more years with my dear semicolon.


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