The Miseducation of Semicolons

The angst in each breath was daunting; my lungs couldn’t find life again.
OR
The angst in each breath was daunting. My lungs couldn’t find life again.

This is my life. To semicolon or not to semicolon…that is the question. And I’m sick of trying to answer it but then a ray of light burst through the clouds.

My dear friends at The Write Practice (okay, I don’t know anyone there but I swear it feels like I’ve met them), have helped to ease my mind about this ridiculous drama behind the semicolon.

In their article When To Use a Semicolon, they give two great ways and things to think about when we all go through this dilemma.

Here’s a couple of rules they suggested:

1. Each clause of the sentence needs to be an independent clause.
You know what an independent clause is, right? You’re writers! Sometimes, however, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the semicolon, and you’ll want to use it everywhere. Don’t.

If you’re going to use it, make sure that each clause can stand on its own as a fully formed sentence. If it helps, mentally separate the two clauses with a period to test their independence.

Justin didn’t walk; he ran. Justin didn’t walk. He ran.

2. Use them sparingly.
It can get exhausting for your reader if there is too much going on in one sentence. If there is too much going on in each sentence for a full paragraph, that may result in reader mutiny, and you’re going to have trouble bringing them back. Use the semicolon to connect ideas that are related, but don’t try to connect every single idea in a paragraph. Periods are your friends (at least in this context).

Ellie subtly flared her nostrils; the smell of lilac and lavender filled the air; it reminded her of her summers in the hills of Ohio; she and her cousins would make crowns of daisies and give them to their mothers.

For the love of God and the sanity of your readers, do not do this.

Ellie subtly flared her nostrils. The smell of lilac and lavender filled the air; it reminded her of her summers in the hills of Ohio. She and her cousins would make crowns of daisies and give them to their mothers.

Did that brighten your semicolon day? If so, or not, let me know. What are you thoughts about the mighty semi C (yep, I gave it a nickname)?

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