Semicolons: The most Feared Punctuation on Earth

I have the unenviable task of following H.R. Puffenstuff’s recollection of his encounter with one of the more elusive specimens of good writing:  the thesis.  I’ll be honest, writing that is as good as Prof. Puffenstuff’s is tough to measure up to.  While my prose won’t be as riveting(let’s face it, I’m a historian, and, other than David McCullough, our writing is somewhat banal), the point that I’m going to raise is important for anyone wanting to be a good writer:  how to properly use a semicolon.

The Oatmeal semicolon cartoon


















So, what is a semicolon?  It is a punctuation mark used between two independent clauses (it can also be used for listing, but that’s for another blog).  Or, to put it another way, it links two phrases that could be sentences in their own right.  Here are two examples:


“Alabama fans like to claim national titles that their team never actually won; they did so in 1941 in spite of the fact that they lost to SEC bottom-feeders Mississippi State and Vanderbilt.”



“Alabama fans claimed a national title in 1941; however, in that same year, they lost to SEC bottom-feeders Mississippi State and Vanderbilt.”


In each example the text before and after the semicolon could be a sentence on its own.  By adding the semicolon, we link the two together, add a bit of flair to our writing, and, if we use it correctly, look brilliant.  The latter is especially important, and, in fact, I think I read somewhere that 9 out of 10 Alabama fans don’t know how to use a semicolon correctly.


Happy writing, and War Eagle,



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