Thursday, August 2, 2012


I love semi-colons.  I think they are one of the most useful pieces of punctuation there is.  But so many people mis-use them!  Or use way too many of them.

The semi-colon is a very precise piece of punctuation.  It's also a little odd, which is probably why I like it so much.  So, if I read a piece with semi-colons sprinkled liberally through it, I'm probably going to sit up and take notice.  And that's not a good thing.  Anything that draws attention to the writing as opposed to the story is not working.  The writing is a tool you use to tell the story.  Sometimes you can wow people with gorgeous prose or beautiful imagery, but you don't want your punctuation to stand out.  Punctuation should be invisible.

Multiple semi-colons are not invisible.
Badly used semi-colons are not invisible.

Semi-colons are used to join two ideas, but not the same way you'd use 'and' or a comma.  The two ideas are linked, but separate.  I know.  It sounds tricky.  And it is sometimes hard to get right.

Correct:  Mark and his brothers were damaged for sure; so were Rick and Alan in their own ways.

Incorrect: The sky was clear and blue; with cottony white puffs of cloud whisking across it.

If you're not certain whether a semi-colon is necessary, don't use it.  You probably don't need it.  And try to keep them to a minimum.  One per page is more than enough.

Is there any other punctuation you find draws attention to itself?


  1. I almost never use semi-colons, but my editor for Touch of Death did put a few in the manuscript. They do serve a purpose, but I think they should be used sparingly.

  2. I rarely use them. They don't really match my style of writing. When it comes to tricky punctuation I follow a simple rule I learned from playing soccer. When in doubt, kick it out!

  3. I don't use semi-colons often, but I am a huge fan of the em dash and parentheses! I could write an entire story as an aside (see, and now here I go with the parentheses. Just goes to show you...)

  4. I am guilty of too many semi colons, I raise my hand! I am inspired to go and take them out.

    I nearly put a semi colon in the first line, just for kicks, then took it out. You are completely right, they are over used.

  5. I think all newbies go through a period of semi-colon crushing. Every sentence can be improved if there's just a semi-colon in there. But if you just read "real" authors, you learn they don't use them. I don't think there are any in my ms's now. I sure love commas though! :-D

  6. I used to hate semi-colons. Probably because I didn't get them. They've grown on me now, and I sometimes use them, although not very often.

  7. Ahh semi-colons. I probably look them up more than any other punctuation mark because so often I'm just not sure. Commas would be a close second though ;)

    (Oh, see that? It's a semi-colon! :))

    ~ Rhonda Parrish