The Pesky Semi-colon

Talking with other authors, I realized that few of them knew the correct usage for the semi-colon.

I admit it has long been a struggle for me, too.

The internet is the “go-to” place for valuable information on thousands of topics, so that’s where I went to learn about it’s use.

Here’s what I found:  

  1. The semicolon is used to join two independent clauses instead of using a conjunction such as and. The group of words that comes before the semicolon should form a complete sentence, and the group of words that comes after the semicolon should form a complete sentence as well. The two sentences must share a close, logical connection. An example would be: Paul bought Brittany flowers for her dance recital; Sam gave her a pearl necklace.

2.  A semicolon should be followed by a capital letter only if the word is a proper noun or an acronym.

For instance, Billy bought a baseball with his allowance; Shawn purchased a skateboard.

3.  You can use semicolons to divide the items of a list if the items are long or contain internal

punctuation. The semicolon helps readers keep track of the divisions between items. For example:

Juan’s plan for his date with Felicia was to visit the county library; skate at the pond; and drink hot

cocoa at the neighborhood cafe. 

4.  When using a conjunctive adverb (such as finally, nonetheless, moreover, however, therefore,

otherwise, likewise, then, and consequently) to link two independent clauses, use a semicolon.

     An example is: I wanted to go for a walk with Robert; however, I also planned to go skating with



New Information on the Ellipsis



In a much earlier post, we talked about the ellipsis and its function. However, I recently learned a couple of technical points I would like to pass along.

First, to review, an ellipsis ( … ) indicates that something has been omitted in the text, usually because the author doesn’t deem it necessary or in order to save space. (I often use one at the end of a sentence to show that the character’s thoughts are trailing off … ) Sometimes they can be used to show hesitation (I didn’t mean … oh, well, it doesn’t matter) or that the character has lost his train of thought.

Beware, however, that just like the exclamation point, the ellipsis can be overused. And that can annoy the reader.

Recently, I have found that there are rules to the exact placement of the dots.

When using an ellipsis in conjunction with other punctuation (commas, semi-colons, question or exclamation marks) treat the ellipses as if it is just another word in the sentence.

For example: “I didn’t know the iron was hot! … I was fortunate not to get burned.”

Here’s a case of other portions of text being eliminated: “I didn’t see the car coming straight at me. … I turned the wheel just in time.”

So, let’s look at the execution in the last example, above: The end of the sentence gets a period. Then, leave a space. Follow that space with the three dots. Finally, leave a space before starting the last sentence.

Remember, there are really only three dots. In the example above, what is shown may look like four, but in actuality, it is a period, followed by an ellipsis. 

Using an ellipsis is one case where spaces, and their placement, are very important.

Balancing Act

If you’re anything like me, you have a stack of books somewhere in your house that keeps getting taller. It seems like every book you read is replaced by one or two more!

The fact is, writers like to read. Need to read.

I’m not just talking about pleasure reading, which is a “given”. Every writer I have ever met has told me that it was the love of reading that sparked within them the desire to write.

No, I’m talking about reading about writing. The craft. Punctuation and grammar to be sure, but also reading about genres, point-of-view, voice, character development, plot and hundreds of more things we need to consider—need to master—in pursuit of excellence.

Once I started writing, I quickly realized the necessity of erecting two stacks of books. One I dubbed “Pleasure”; the other, simply “About Writing”. I have a rule concerning these books: Read from both stacks, simultaneously, so that I fulfill my need for learning AND for enjoyment.

So, what’s next on my stacks? James Scott Bell’s How to Write Dazzling Dialogue and Steven Pressfield’s Turning Pro are on top of the “About Writing” stack. And for pleasure, next up is Chapel Springs Revival by Ane Mulligan.

So, whether you keep an actual physical stack of books, like I do, or simply a list of “Must Reads”, my suggestion is that you try to balance your reading. After all, didn’t you hear this expression as a child? “All work, and no play, makes Jack a dull boy.”


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