Semicolons should be like Kakapos

Jun 04 2012 Published by under [Education&Careers]

I have been reviewing a lot of other people's writing recently. More than is likely healthy. But if you ask me to read and comment on your stuff, I have one simple rule: lay off the fucking semicolons.

At the very most, semicolons should be like rare birds - exciting to see once in a while because of their rarity. They are not the type of punctuation to be used with reckless abandon, rather they often represent a poor compromise. Do you want your reader to stop, pause or what? Why have you left an incomplete sentence dangling there? Make a call, but don't abstain from voting here.

I can let one semicolon in a manuscript slide, so use it wisely. Any more than that and we're going to chat.

24 responses so far

  • anon says:

    You would shitcan a manuscript over a fucking semicolon??? Dude, you need a break or something. Glass of whiskey for fuckssakes.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    You would shitcan a manuscript over a fucking semicolon??

    Not sure where you are getting this. I will remove it and replace it with something else, if that's what you mean.

  • I am a proponent of semicolons; when used correctly they indicate an intimate connection between two independent clauses.

  • Tim says:

    I'd rather see a few semicolons than a bunch of very short stilted sentences in a row; I don't like to read manuscripts that sound like telegrams.

    Too many commas bugs me more than too many semicolons. As long as they're used properly (the semicolons), of course.

  • lylebot says:

    Why have you left an incomplete sentence dangling there?

    If this is how you're seeing semicolons, then you're not seeing them used correctly.

    By the way, you should have replaced that comma in between "abandon" and "rather" with a semicolon.

  • DJMH says:

    ditto lylebot; he speaks the truth.

  • Karen says:

    I agree that semicolons should be used sparingly. I class it with other "stunt punctuation" like scare quotes (see what I did there?), parentheses (again!), dashes, and colons. Most of my editing is short form, so I can set a rule of only one of each per item; however, in a long-form piece, I'd just make sure they didn't pop out too much.

  • TheGrinch says:

    Me thinks it is cultural. British English tends to use semicolons, American English less so.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    Sure, when semicolons are used correctly they can work (sparingly!), but there's the rub. So few people use them effectively and would be better off with another form of punctuation. Typically they are distracting.

  • miko says:

    "They are not the type of punctuation to be used with reckless abandon, rather they often represent a poor compromise."

    Well, you just used a comma where, in the absence of a coordinating conjunctions, only a semi-colon or period will do.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    in the absence of a coordinating conjunctions

    Hahahahhahahahahaa

  • miko says:

    DUDE, that's a typo! At least I know comma rules before scolding about semi-colons!

  • proflikesubstance says:

    You've read your own blog, right? Like, recently? You people crack my shit up sometimes. Hey, at least you know comma rules...

    "One reason I feel silent the last couple of weeks was a major last push dealing with a paper. Well, I’ve finally had the new that some the fruits of my last several years’ labor has been deemed suitable for publication in one of the “big 3” glamorous magazines for life scientists. In the interest of pseudonymity, I won’t go far into the process, but: it was not pleasant."

  • miko says:

    wtf are you talking about? in the midst of your douchey posing about how your sensibilities are offended by semi-colon overuse you get gently mocked for misusing commas and you get all spazzy?

  • proflikesubstance says:

    Sorry, I just have a thing for irony. Makes me all "spazzy".

  • miko says:

    I mean, no one would criticize someone's comma errors if they weren't, y'know, being a dick and anonymously slagging their colleagues' punctuation. So when I hold forth about some twee style issue that I'm puffily pretending matters, feel free to have at it.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    So when I hold forth about some twee style issue that I'm puffily pretending matters, feel free to have at it.

    Are we talking about coordinating conjunctions again? I'm lost.

  • miko says:

    Oh, sorry, I was still talking about the semi-colon boner you've been massaging all day. Anyway, sounds like you've got a bunch of super annoying trainees in need of your wisdom! I hope you can sort them out.

  • Jim Thomerson says:

    To balance you out, I know a professor who holds that one cannot use however without, in some way, associating it with a semicolon. You are both wrong,

  • Lady Day says:

    PFL could have used a period between "abandon" and "rather." Then, a comma after "rather."

  • Lady Day says:

    Oops. That should be, PLS, for "proflikesubstance," not "PFL." I've had a bit too much champagne tonight.

  • Darwin says:

    What people should do is code some programs in appropriate languages, and then re-evaluate feelings regarding semicolons.

  • Dereko says:

    Someone tell me something; can any sentence using a semi-colon; or sentences, rather; be rewrit so that the semi-colon is no longer necessary? Because; if so; is the semi-colon really a punctuation worth fretting over?; one could go his entire life without using it; writing all the while.

    I see people VERY for the semi-colon and VERY AGAINST the semi-colon. I am 24 years old and I have decided; forever; that the semi-colon does not enhance writing in any way that commas and periods could not do just as well; if the writer would only reconsider how and where he placed his words.

    The semi-colon is not necessary, is it. It's useful; like all tools;, but not necessary.(?)

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