the dreaded semicolon

I don’t know. Maybe I’ve had to circle too many semicolons in my life, making the requisite marginal note: Review the uses of a semicolon.

The truth is: you could finish a PhD in English, write and publish in any genre, even win the Nobel prize for Literature, and never once use a semicolon.Emily in Orange

While it works for joining complete sentences, conjunctions and transitions are the better choices because they make connections clear and are easier for your reader to follow.

If you want the more fragmented effect in joining sentences, nothing beats the dash–like a breath of air, the dash can lift the text off the page–it adds a lively immediacy to the text that Emily Dickinson understood. By contrast the semicolon feels old-fashioned; its form looks formal, and somewhat Victorian.

It does come in handy as a kind of super-comma when you have a long, convoluted list with too many commas in it already, but as a reader, I’ve always found those semicolons surprising–they stop me in my tracks. I have to go back and read over until I remember the rule and the semicolon makes sense.

By all means, if you feel you need to use the semicolon–and sometimes I do–review the uses and be consistent.

“A little Madness in the Spring
Is wholesome even for the King,
But God be with the Clown –
Who ponders this tremendous scene –
This whole Experiment of Green –
As if it were his own!”

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