More punctuation questions (and answers)


This is my 500th post since I started my blog exactly three years ago. I wondered back then how long I could find good topics, but the Goddess of Language seems to be presenting me with endless subjects. The Goddess, along with your suggestions, has been generous. Please keep them coming!

A very smart, loyal reader wrote to me wanting to know about the following situations. He wants to know when to use

Semicolons vs. periods
Semicolons vs. colons
Semicolons vs. parentheses
Semicolons vs. dashes
Commas vs. semicolons

Obviously, this is too much for one post. Let me take a few small pieces of it and get to the rest in the following weeks.

Commas. A week ago I gave you four comma rules. Stick with those and you will be prepared for just about any situation you will encounter.

Semicolons vs. periods and vs. commas. You know to put a period at the end of a declarative sentence.

(1) Use a semicolon at the end of a complete sentence that is closely related to the sentence that follows it: That dishwasher is much too expensive; besides, the one we have still works well. You could use a period between those two sentences. But a semicolon works as well and does link the two ideas more closely than a period would.

(2) Use a semicolon at the end of a complete sentence and before introductory words such as However, Therefore, Furthermore, and Besides. See the previous example sentence about the dishwasher. Those introductory words will be followed by commas.

(3) If you have a complicated list, use semicolons between the items instead of commas: The diplomat was sent to Lima, Peru; Rome, Italy; Osaka, Japan; and Rio de Janiero, Brazil. You can see how confusing that list would be if you used commas instead of semicolons between each country and city.

That’s enough for today. We’ll go over the rest next week.

Questions? As always, feel free to contact me. I’m happy to try to help.


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