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Richard Norway

The Semicolon

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If a sentence is to be chopped into two sections, the part after the semicolon cannot stand on its own, but the first part can. "He hated eating cauliflower; it sickened him."

Also used as part of a long list, instead of commas, particularly if the listed items contain commas in their own right. "There were many reasons; mothers like children; parents like cats, dogs, going out; grand parents hate their grand kids." Okay, stupid example, but it addresses the point, I think.

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Thanks guys. I was troubled with the relatedness of the phrases separated by a semicolon.

But Trab, I think that the parts of a sentence separated by a semicolon must stand on their own as complete sentences. In your example "it sickens him." is a complete sentence but the first word isn't capitolized. That isn't the case when it's used to separate a series containing it's own commas though. But I could be wrong. :icon_twisted:

Cole, I went to Wikipedia just like you told me to do. But next time though, send me to your favorite porno site. :hehe::sneaky:

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That part does NOT stand on its own. If that was all that was written, it would be useless. Only within a sentence, or a paragraph does it mean anything.

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I mean by 'stand on it's own' as it must be a complete sentence...structurally, not logically. I don't think a fragment works, at least I haven't seen one.

You are right though, in that the sentence following the semicolon cannot be 'stand alone' without the first part. This gets back to my question of relatedness of the two parts. The second part relates to the first part, hence it can be separated by a semicolon and not a period. But I still think that the second part also needs to structurally be a complete sentence.

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A decent site for grammar and punctuation rules can be found at


To get to semicolons you have to click on punctuation and then semicolon.

It is not the end authority on all things relating to American grammar and punctuation, but it is quick and easy to use and presents quite good explanations. It is the site I start at when I have questions on the subject. If you are unfamiliar with it, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

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The strict rule is that the semi-colon separates two independent clauses. Which means, both are possible as complete sentences on their own. But, when they're very closely related, the semi-colon shows that relationship. A period would suffice, but a semicolon shows the relationship and so is better.

The thing is, however, lots of writers don't always strictly comply with the rule. There are times you'll see the part following the semi-colon isn't an independent clause. I've even done this myself a time or two. When it simply feels right. But published authors also do it. Not terribly often, but you do see it. And I don't really know how to explain when and when not to do that. When it feels right, I guess.


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Des wrote,
QUOTE (Fritz @ Aug 8 2009, 01:53 PM) 
[...]American grammar and punctuation, [...]

When did they get that?

About the same time we fixed a bunch of British spelling. :icon_twisted:

Excellent Fritz :hehe:

That would have been just before we Aussies corrected it again with our lingo.*

*Lingo = language in Australian. :sneaky:

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Des; it's fun to trade jabs over spelling and punctuation, but I need to tell you a true story about myself. To describe my ability to spell as atrocious does not come close to covering it. As I frequently say, I can use the same word three times in a paragraph; spell it differently all three times; and be wrong all three times. Anyhow, when I first got a computer it had an email program written by a fellow in New Zealand. So away I went, using the email program and its spell check feature and was as happy as if I had good sense. Lo and behold, one day I got to looking at it and discovered the spell check was using British spellings and I'd been using the program for several years and had assumed that its spelling was American. I have no idea how many extra "U's" and other letters it had recommended to me, but even though I sometimes thought the spellings looked strange, I didn't have enough confidence in my ability to spell to even bother to look the spellings up and check them. I just accepted what it suggested and let it go at that. I might never have discovered the British spell check had it not been for pasting in some work I'd written in Word and had already run Word's spell check on it. When I used the email's spell check it attempted to correct several things that Word had already passed which caused me to really look at it.

In my perfect world, all the countries using English as their primary language would get together and agree upon spelling and punctuation rules. In most cases I think we should defer to the United Kingdom because they are the ones who came up with English, but I do think that some of the spellings from others make more sense, plus they save letters. For example, I think it wise to leave the U out of behaviour and other similar words. On the other hand, I would have no problem agreeing to reverse America's rules for quote marks which would make them consistent with the United Kingdom and would also save on the total number of marks needed, although I haven't heard of any shortage of quote marks.

Have a great day


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In most cases I think we should defer to the United Kingdom because they are the ones who came up with English...

What? WHAT? and give up our perfectly logical American spelling? I should think naught.

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Thanks Fritz, your common sense approach is much appreciated.

And while I might agree that deferring to UK spelling makes some sense, I would also point out that English is a living language and that it changes and can cope with changes quite well. If you look at Shakespeare's English of the 1600s many times you will have to stop and think about it. The famous "Wherefore art thou Romeo?" is often interpreted as meaning "Where the hell is my Romeo, now?" when in fact it means "Why are you Romeo from that other family which is feuding with my family?"

However, I would hasten to add that the cultural differences between UK, and US English usage are not so great that we can't work with the odd spellings. It really isn't too difficult to overlook or even accept that we spell differently.

I suppose it might have something to do with Australia being more recently settled as English colonies than America, and that we have not had to fight for independence, but we are now under influence from both the UK and the US via world media and for us it is relatively easy to cope with the variations of spelling and accents. I have found myself writing with US spelling and punctuation at times and UK ala Aussie spelling at other times. I guess I am not worried about it as much as I am concerned with local word usage and misuse of words according to what should be universal definitions in the English language, but which have suffered from localisation of word usage and their meanings. This is a different concern as it makes the language seem foreign to all users, sort of like trying to communicate in Shakespearean English:

"How goes it with you knave?"

Instead of,

"'sup Dude?"

The problem is perhaps exacerbated by each of us wanting to think our way is best, when what is really important is that we define our terms so that we may meaningfully, communicate.

Having said that, I would emphasise or emphasize that trying to maintain understandable expressions of communication is often easier said than done, let alone the actual idea behind the thought process being conveyed by whatever words are handy.

It's a lot easier if we don't insist on a particular form being the only one. :icon_twisted:

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"The USA and Britain, two great nations divided only by a common language." Who said that? Oscar Wilde? Mark Twain? Dunno. But I have to say that I LOVE the diversity of the English language. It amuses me greatly that the two ends of a car, or automobile, are a bonnet and a boot on one side of the Atlantic, but a hood and a trunk on the other. There are endless examples and since American culture is so pervasive over here it amazes me that there are many Brits who are defeated by Americanisms. It's more understandable, I think, when I come across Americans who struggle with Britishisms since there are more of you and (maybe?) you are not as much bombarded with British culture over there. It surprised me on a visit to New York to find the natives were not familiar with the word 'fortnight' for two weeks, for instance, but most Brits no longer recognise the word 'sennight' for one week. In many cases the differences seem to take the form of archaic usage lasting longer on one side of the Atlantic than on the other. Brits no longer say 'gotten', for instance.

I'm rambling, my point is simply that I love playing with language and I love the regional differences within the English-speaking world.

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"The USA and Britain, two great nations divided only by a common language." Who said that? Oscar Wilde? Mark Twain?

According to everything.com:

In 1887 Wilde wrote: `We have really everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language'. But the 1951 Treasury of Humorous Quotations (Esar Bentley) quotes Shaw as saying: `England and America are two countries separated by the same language', but without giving a source. It had earlier been attributed to Shaw in Reader's Digest.
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"How goes it with you knave?"

Instead of,

"'sup Dude?"

Yeah, I'm bewildered at a lot of bizarre American colloquialisms, especially those that derive from laziness and bad grammar. In your example, we've gone from "what is happening," to "what's happening" to "what's up" to "'sup?"

At the risk of invoking the name of the great George Carlin, eventually it's just gonna be "'P"? No more vowels.

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Yeah, I'm bewildered at a lot of bizarre American colloquialisms, especially those that derive from laziness and bad grammar. In your example, we've gone from "what is happening," to "what's happening" to "what's up" to "'sup?"

At the risk of invoking the name of the great George Carlin, eventually it's just gonna be "'P"? No more vowels.

Yes Pec, that is part of the usage, just as 'wherefore' in Shakespeare's time had a different use to the meaning we might assume intuitively today.

This changing use (some would call it 'abuse') of the language, is a constant source of material for comedians and other entertainers. Because much of the modern slang is vocal, it doesn't always translate into the written word effectively, but texting will, I am certain, produce additions to the English language just so the teens can confound their elders. Every generation has its own vernacular.

I also find it hysterical when newspapers and magazines try to define teenage phrases and words for the benefit of the older generation.

One such definition of 'sup' went along the lines:

Sup? -a code word teenagers use to find out if there are any drugs available.

I need hardly add that this is a primary example of how newspapers manipulate their readers with misinformation, generate fear in older persons, and diss the teenagers, all at the same time. (Note I used the modern form of diss, when I could have used 'disrespect', however 'diss' has a connotation much wider than simple disrespect. In this regard my WordWeb dictionary is too narrow in its definition of diss: Treat, mention, or speak to rudely.)

If you want to put modern teen phrases to good use, answer those annoying telemarketing phone calls with the phrase: "Yo Dude!" Nine times out of ten they will hangup, or ask to speak to your father. The tenth time they will apologize and then hang up.

We should also keep in mind when writing our stories, that too much use of the latest teenage slang will date the writing very quickly.

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Thanks, Des. So it was GBS. I will try to remember that, but I'm more likely to remember the quote and forget the source (again). Senility, because you're worth it!

The article mentions the book 'Everything you know about English is wrong' which sounds fun, like Lynne Truss's 'Eats, Shoots and Leaves'.

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