If a struggling writer is having trouble with apostrophe’s, too bad. Spoken English doesnt use them and doesnt give the slightest hint about where they might be needed in writing, but youd better put them in, or the writing will look like this paragraph. Cant do that.
On the other hand, there’s one thing you can do if you’re a struggling writer: avoid semicolons. Entirely.
We all know the looks of the semicolon: a comma with a dot on top. But what good is it?
There’s an elegant little definition published in 1911 for the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary: “In present use it is the chief stop intermediate in value between the comma and the full stop; usually separating sentences the latter of which limits the former, or marking off a series of sentences or clauses of co-ordinate value.” The semicolon in the definition nicely illustrates the definition.
Not much has changed since then. A convenient contemporary example is Grant Barrett’s brand new Perfect English Grammar (“The indispensable guide to excellent writing and speaking”). A semicolon, the book explains, “indicates that the two clauses or sentences should be closely related.” Among other things, somewhat echoing the OED, it says: “a semicolon is also used between two independent clauses when a transition, or follow-on effect, is indicated.”
That’s right; what’s right is that with a semicolon, you can limit the preceding sentence or clause and keep connection with it too; you can go on and on; you never have to stop; of course, you can if you’re tired; you may have good reasons for stopping; then again, it’s tempting to go on and on; there’s no limit to the length of a single sentence or the number of semicolons it contains; however, it really isn’t necessary.
No, it’s really not necessary. In the paragraph above, you could perform a semicolonectomy, replacing every semicolon with a period:
That’s right. What’s right is that with a semicolon, you can limit the preceding sentence or clause and keep connection with it too. You can go on and on. You never have to stop. Of course, you can if you’re tired. You may have good reasons for stopping. Then again, it’s tempting to go on and on. There’s no limit to the length of a single sentence or the number of semicolons it contains. However, it really isn’t necessary.
In short, there are good uses for semicolons, but you can do perfectly well without them. And if (unlike most readers of Lingua Franca) you’re a struggling writer, leave those semicolons alone. You can take your car anywhere you wish with a regular driver’s license. You need a special license for a semi.
Instead of trying to place semicolons in sentences, you can use them to save lives. Tattoo one on your arm as a lifesaver. No kidding. Remember? The tattoo prevents suicide, because it “is used when a sentence could have ended, but didn’t.”
[[*Illustration courtesy of Helen Gräwert and Concise Content]]