Posts Tagged ‘semicolon’

COMMA OR SEMICOLON? THERE IS A DIFFERENCE.

Friday, February 27th, 2015

I am often asked about semicolons and how to use them correctly. Sometimes the writer wants to know if semicolons and commas can be used interchangeably. The answer is no. I think the two example sentences posted here will help clarify that answer:

In an article about an abandoned mausoleum in Bessemer, Alabama, a Birmingham News reporter created this statement:

The others buried there were: Peter Smith, Geneva Ann Jones, a 6-month-old girl who died from a heart condition in 1993; Vivian Lawrence, 49; Robert Samuel Vaughn, 74: Emily Parsons, 93; Annie Rae Stevens, 56.

NOTE: The names in the above example have been changed. 

Whoops: When people are listed in a series, their names should be separated by commas. If additional information is given about some of the people, that information should be separated from the name with a comma. In that case, each person/information combo should be set off from the next person or person/info combo by a semicolon. This should be done consistently throughout the sentence.

 

In the example above, PETER SMITH is separated from GENEVA ANN JONES by a comma. The punctuation should be a semicolon to be consistent with the rest of the sentence.  The word AND should be added after "93;" to indicate that ANNIE RAE STEVENS is the last person in the series.  Also notice below that it is not necessary to use a colon after WERE in this sentence. It should read this way:

The others buried there were Peter Smith; Geneva Ann Jones, a six-month-old girl who died from a heart condition in 1993; Vivian Lawrence, 49; Robert Samuel Vaughn, 74; Emily Parsons, 93; and Annie Rae Stevens, 56.

When several items are in a series but none of them contain additional information that should be set off by commas, the items can be separated by just a comma. Notice below that there is no good reason for the semicolon after the word INVOLVED in this sentence from another article in The Birmingham News:

The notice says that anyone who wants to report an allegation should do so in writing to the court with as much information as possible, including the person or persons involved; the date on which the alleged violation occurred and specific details of the incident.

For business writing prose (as opposed to journalism style), I would add a comma before AND after OCCURRED, to indicate the end of the series. The sentence should read this way:

The notice says that anyone who wants to report an allegation should do so in writing to the court with as much information as possible, including the person or persons involved, the date on which the alleged violation occurred, and specific details of the incident.


Carried Away with Semicolons!

Saturday, September 14th, 2013

pill dropperA huge advertisement promoting drops instead of pills for health problems offers several excellent examples of when NOT to use semicolons. The purpose of a semicolon is to link two independent clauses (statements that are related but can stand alone). It should replace a period or ", and" but NOT be used as it is in the following sentences:

Whoops #1: "Why, with all the medications we take to improve our health; are people still getting sicker?"

The semicolon above should be a comma. The basic statement is: WHY ARE PEOPLE STILL GETTING SICKER? The words WITH…HEALTH make up an introductory phrase, not a separate clause. I would also stick with WE instead of switching to PEOPLE. It should read this way:

SOLUTION: Why, with all the medications we take to improve our health, are we still getting sicker?

Here is the second semicolon error, which seems to involve confusing the semicolon with a colon:

Whoops #2: The problem is; there's no escape!

SOLUTION: Leave out the inner punctuation completely. It should read this way:

The problem is that there's no escape.

The third semicolon error tries to set off a prepositional phrase that should be part of the main clause:

Whoops #3: It's the first and only product to eliminate life-sapping toxins; from virtually every organ in your body….

SOLUTION: Simply remove the semicolon.

It's the first and only product to eliminate life-sapping toxins from virtually every organ in your body….

The fourth semicolon error tries to use both the semicolon and AND. This is not necessary.

Whoops #4: Just add 5 drops of …… to any beverage, twice a day; and you'll see rapid improvements to your health almost immediately.

SOLUTION: Change the colon to a comma and use it with AND.

Just add 5 drops of …… to any beverage, twice a day, and you'll see rapid improvements to your health almost immediately. 

The fifth and final semicolon error in this one advertisement should also be a comma so that the cause/effect relationship of the two clauses is clear:

Whoops #5: We've made special arrangements with the distributor to supply our readers with a totally Risk-FREE sample of ……; so you can see for yourself, without risking a penny.

SOLUTION: Remove the semicolon before SO, remove the second comma, and change YOU and YOURSELF to THEY and THEMSELVES to keep the pronouns consistent.

We've made special arrangements with the distributor to supply our readers with a totally Risk-FREE sample of …… so they can see for themselves without risking a penny.

Whew! That is a rather large number of errors for one advertisement–and I didn't even quote the two errors that had nothing to do with semicolons!

I hope these examples will be good reminders about semicolon usage. If you have other examples to share or questions to ask, please put them in a comment, and I will respond.


Quotation marks? Commas and periods go INSIDE.

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

Now that fall is here, my local ladies' club newsletter is arriving in the mailbox again, and the first issue contains a number of Grammar Glitches.  Here is the first one (with names changed), in a calendar listing for the coming year:

 November   "A Musical Visit with John Doe", Artistic Director for X Theater

Whoops! The comma after John Doe's name should be INSIDE the quotation marks.  Commas and periods ALWAYS go inside the quotation marks in English in the United States.  The calendar listing should read this way:

 November "A Musical Visit with John Doe," Artistic Director for X Theater

Here is another example from the same newsletter, in a sentence about a tablescapes competition:

Other designers  included:  Jane Smith, "Welcome Back"; Betty Baker, "Autumn Leaves" and Cathy Carly, "Autumn Events" and "Lacy Leaves".

Whoops again!  Several times!  First, when INCLUDED is used in the body of a sentence, it should not be followed by a colon. 

Second, it is correct to place the semicolon after the word BACK outside the quotation marks, but for consistency, there should also be one after LEAVES. Semicolons and colons always go outside the quotation marks. The semicolon is used here (correctly) because there are commas within the items in the series. 

Third, the period at the end of the sentence should go inside the quotation marks.  This sentence should read as follows:

Other designers included Jane Smith, "Welcome Back"; Betty Baker, "Autumn Leaves"; and Cathy Carly, "Autumn Events" and "Lacy Leaves."

 PLEASE NOTE: If you would like me to do a blog post that offers a chart of where to place other punctuation marks in relationship to quotation marks, please let me know in the comment box.

Wh Other designers included: Jane Smith, "Welcome Back"; Betty Baker, "Autumn Leaves" and Cathy Carly, "Autumn Events" and "Lacy Leaves".

 Other designers included: Jane Smith, "Welcome Back"; Betty Baker, "Autumn Leaves" and Cathy Carly, "Autumn Events" and "Lacy Leaves".

 

 

 

 


Consider time frame when choosing verb tenses.

Friday, March 25th, 2011

I didn't intend to take a week's vacation from blogging while I traveled to Denver to celebrate my Dad's 90th birthday, but tech problems kept me from accessing this site while I was gone.  I hope you missed the Grammar Glitches!  We are back on schedule as of today.

Today's Grammar Glitch (from an article by Douglas Birch for The Associated Press) has to do with choosing correct verbs and prepositions to express the time frame you are discussing:

After Libya agreed to give up its weapons of mass destruction in 2003, the U. S. has been spending about $2 million a year to steer weapons scientists and technicians into other fields….

The word AFTER does not indicate an ongoing situation, yet HAS BEEN SPENDING refers to a program that began in 2003 but continues on today.  I would suggest the word SINCE instead of AFTER and rewrite the sentence this way:

Since Libya agreed to give up its weapons of mass destruction in 2003, the U. S. has been spending about $2 million a year to steer weapons scientists and technicians into other fields….

 

GRAMMAR GLITCH GIGGLE OF THE DAY: I am reading John Irving's novel Twisted River and came across this wonderful description of a semicolon, as stated by Irving's rough and tumble character Ketcham:

"Whatever you call them, they (semicolons) look like someone smashed a fly over the comma."

Fortunately, semicolons are not as common as they used to be, so we no longer need to smash that fly over the comma so often!


Colon? Semicolon? There IS a Difference!

Friday, January 21st, 2011

I received a "performance tips" newsletter this week that is poorly written and contains a number of punctuation errors as well as poorly worded sentences.  Because those who take my workshops often ask about colons and semicolons, I will focus on that error here. 

Consider this sentence, which has to do with emotional intelligence:

The five areas are; self awareness, self regulation, motivation, empathy, social skills.

Whoops!  There is NEVER  a good reason for separating a verb (ARE) from its object or, in this case the subject complement, with a semicolon.  A semicolon functions the same way a comma followed by AND would function, as in "It was almost noon; the report was due at one o'clock." What the writer of the "five areas" sentence meant to do was insert a flag (a colon) that announced an upcoming list.  However, the writer could have simply gone on with the list with no additional punctuation.  The sentence should read one of these two ways:

The five areas are: self awareness, self regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills.

The five areas are self awareness, self regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills.

 The same "Whoops!" was committed again in the next paragraph, which contains this statement :

By mastering the Sales competency called Emotional Intelligence you can improve these specific Sales Competencies; Goals, Positive Attitude, and Strong Self Confidence.

There should be a colon, not a semicolon, after COMPETENCIES.  I would also suggest that, because there is an eight-word introductory phrase before the subject of the sentence (YOU), there should be a comma before YOU.  Here is my edit:

By mastering the Sales competency called Emotional Intelligence, you can improve these specific Sales Competencies: Goals, Positive Attitude, and Strong Self Confidence.

PLEASE NOTE: The list of specific Sales Competencies in this newsletter is much longer, and it does not exhibit good parallel structure.  Check one of my later posts for a comment on proper parallel structure for a list like this one.