When I was a child, I was captivated by fairy tales and myths and legends–especially those where characters were a link, a bridge between mortals and immortals.
We’re going to look at another type of bridge: the semicolon.
The semicolon has three major functions: to link thematically related thoughts, to introduce conjunctions or transitional phrases and to avoid confusion in lists.
In the first example, the ; connects like-minded thoughts. A period would disconnect them; a comma would create a splice (a splice connects two thoughts that could stand alone).
The stench of danger hung in the air; an evil one was near.
She was shivering; she had left her sweater behind.
Notice how the second thought helps to explain the first. Complete thoughts may be soulmates that complement each other when kept together.
And the ; is the bridge that makes that possible.
Semicolon use may also avoid a bumpy effect.
He crossed the road. She was waiting for him. She was always waiting.
But, enough about marriage; back to the semicolon.
Secondly, you will see semicolons used with conjunctions and transitional phrases; for example, as it was just used in this sentence.
The ; is used, as above, with transitional phrases such as for example, in other words, on the contrary, on the other hand and with conjunctions such as therefore, consequently, conversely, nevertheless and nonetheless (an aside: Why isn’t however many spelled “howevermany” when none the less is “nonetheless”?).
One caution about using transitional phrases such as in other words and on the contrary: they may become jargon. At times, such phrases and called for and enhance the style of writing.
A third use for the semicolon—lists—deserves an honourable mention. The ; is used in lists to promote clarity, where its absence would cause confusion. Undoubtedly, this is the most practical use for the semicolon.
The newlyweds were Dottie and Wilfred from Oakville, Ontario; Percy and Naomi-Ruth from Winnipeg, Manitoba; Harold and Zena from Biggar, Saskatchewan; and last, but not least, Fred and Ethel-Mae from Sunnybrook, B.C. (All names are fictitious, of course!)
Oh yeah … I almost forgot … The semicolon also doubles as a wink—;—not to be used in What’s Up Yukon.