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Old 11-20-2011, 07:38 AM   #1
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Semicolon vs. Period?

What is the rule for determining when to join to thoughts with a semicolon verse using a period and starting a new sentence?
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Old 11-20-2011, 08:19 AM   #2
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A semicolon links two independent but hopefully related clauses, each of which could stand on its own as an independent sentence. Far as I know it only exists to prevent short, choppy sentences.

I was never quite clear on when to use it instead of a comma and one of the linking conjunctions, but it seems to be personal taste.
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Old 11-20-2011, 08:31 AM   #3
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Old 11-20-2011, 10:17 AM   #4
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A semicolon is used to separate two parts of a sentence that need a firmer break than a comma would provide, but that are too closely connected to be made into separate sentences. The semicolon has 4 basic uses: (1) to unite closely connected sentences; (2) to separate coordinate clauses in complex sentences; (3) a series when there is an element in the series that has an internal comma; and (4) to make the reader pause a bit longer than a comma would.

For detailed information, see Garner's Modern American Usage (2009) p. 681, or The Gregg Reference Manual 10th ed (2005) para 176 et seq.
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Old 11-20-2011, 01:51 PM   #5
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This is one of the best descriptions I've found:

http://leo.stcloudstate.edu/punct/col-semi.html

Uses of the Semicolon

1. To join independent clauses in compound sentences that do not have coordinating conjunctions (and, or, but, nor, for, so, yet) and commas as connectors. Words like "however," "moreover," "thus," and "therefore," are often used as connectors in these sentences.

Comparisons are often used to emphasize a basic idea; however, they are more often used to explain something complex or unfamiliar by showing how something we don't understand relates to something we do.


There was no running and no shouting; all the children behaved very well; therefore, they will all get a treat.

Working mothers nationally pay an average of $53 a week for child care; this means that many women pay nearly half of their weekly salary to day care centers or babysitters.

2. To separate long or complicated items in a series which already includes commas.

The speakers were Dr. Judith Cornwell, English; Dr. Peter Mortrude, biology; Dr. Shirley Enders, history; and Dr. Charles Viceroy, mathematics.

I have recommended this student because she communicates well with other students, faculty, and staff; completes her assignments ably and on time; and demonstrates an ability to organize people, materials, and time.

3. To separate two long or complex independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction if confusion would result from using a comma.

Ishmael, the narrator in Moby-Dick goes to sea, he says, "whenever it is a damp, drizzly November" in his heart and soul; but Ahab, the captain of the ship, goes to sea because of his obsession to hunt and kill the great white whale, Moby Dick.

By the end of the sessions, the participants will have learned how to handle excessive amounts of paperwork, to work under pressure, and to juggle deadlines; and, if they complete all requirements, they will have a valuable addition to their resumes.
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Old 11-20-2011, 02:20 PM   #6
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Thanks all! So for example the post above has

There was no running and no shouting; all the children behaved very well; therefore, they will all get a treat.

But why would you do that instead of:

There was no running and no shouting. All the children behaved very well. Therefore, they will all get a treat.
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Old 11-20-2011, 02:50 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by VydorScope View Post
Thanks all! So for example the post above has

There was no running and no shouting; all the children behaved very well; therefore, they will all get a treat.

But why would you do that instead of:

There was no running and no shouting. All the children behaved very well. Therefore, they will all get a treat.
I think it's something that could go either way. Honestly, semi-colons should be used only when truly necessary. If it's better as a stand-alone sentence then stick with that.

Here's one sample I just wrote that does use a semi-colon. It works for the sentence, though I could have replaced it with "because"

"It’s hard to tell though; she doesn’t like to be predictable."

I use semi-colons a lot when speech is involved, because people tend to use them when talking without really realizing.
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Old 11-20-2011, 02:55 PM   #8
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I use semi-colons a lot when speech is involved, because people tend to use them when talking without really realizing.
How do you speak one? Is it just a long pause? How do you tell it from period? MS word has been suggesting them in my work otherwise I never have chosen to use one before.
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Old 11-20-2011, 03:25 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by VydorScope View Post
How do you speak one? Is it just a long pause? How do you tell it from period? MS word has been suggesting them in my work otherwise I never have chosen to use one before.
Ummmmm . . . . lol. That's a hard question. It's half a pause, or a change in cadence that's usually accompanied by facial and body language. MS Word is an idiot when it comes to suggesting semi-colons 80% of the time, so I wouldn't lend too much weight to their recommendations.

One thing I recommend is to go to a restaurant and listen to other conversations where people are talking naturally. Think of where the punctuation is in the conversation. Internal thought is much different than out-loud speech.

Last edited by John Carroll; 11-20-2011 at 03:45 PM.
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Old 11-20-2011, 08:16 PM   #10
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I think it is highly content-dependent, where in contrary other rules work more strict.
Since I tend to produce long sentences I use it always, when I think a period would interfere with the "flow" of an idea or concept; it would be to harsh a stop. A comma wouldn' give "time enough" to mentally adjust to a slight change in said flow, being just a small separator.
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Old 11-21-2011, 05:51 AM   #11
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This is one of the best descriptions I've found:
I checked out the definition of a semicolon at GrammerBook.com and thought it was also excellent.

The only rock-solid thing I know is if you hook together two sentences without using a conjunction such as and or but, then a semicolon is required. Never use a comma to splice together two sentences.

There are other instances where a semicolon is required, some of which I was unfamiliar with before reading up on this, so thanks for bringing this up.
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Old 11-21-2011, 06:19 AM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by VydorScope View Post
Thanks all! So for example the post above has

There was no running and no shouting; all the children behaved very well; therefore, they will all get a treat.

But why would you do that instead of:

There was no running and no shouting. All the children behaved very well. Therefore, they will all get a treat.
Actually, it would be better written along these lines:

Quote:
"Because the children behaved very well, they will get a treat."
No running or shouting is superfluous once you establish that the behavior was good, unless the only behavior you were interested in was running and shouting, in which case the sentence would be something like:

Quote:
"All the children will get a treat because there was no running or shouting."
The exact wording would depend on what you are trying to convey and what needs emphasis.
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Old 11-21-2011, 09:34 AM   #13
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I checked out the definition of a semicolon at GrammerBook.com and thought it was also excellent.
That is an excellent reference. I've added it to my favorites. (I have numerous rules lists that I refer to as needed)
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Old 11-30-2011, 07:13 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by VydorScope View Post
Thanks all! So for example the post above has

There was no running and no shouting; all the children behaved very well; therefore, they will all get a treat.

But why would you do that instead of:

There was no running and no shouting. All the children behaved very well. Therefore, they will all get a treat.
I would have used the first semicolon but not the second.

"There was no running and no shouting; all the children behaved very well, therefore they will all get a treat."

But I would also have substituted 'so' for 'therefore.'
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Old 11-30-2011, 09:12 PM   #15
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At the end of the day it seems that there is no rule when to use or not use semicolon over a period. It seems to be all stylistic.
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