The semicolon is one of the least-appreciated, least-used punctuation marks. Not a fan of the semicolon, Kurt Vonnegut wrote that the only reason to use this punctuation mark was “to show that you’ve been to college.” You should approach this section on semicolons with an open mind. At the very least, you’ll develop an appreciation for semicolons; at the very best, you’ll prove you can handle college-level punctuation. Three of the most common uses of the semicolon follow.
Semicolons are medium stops; they signal that you should expect more.
“A period has the unblinking finality of a red light; the comma is a flashing yellow light that asks us only to slow down; and the semicolon is a stop sign that tells us to ease gradually to a halt, before gradually starting up again.”
Some students find semicolons too challenging; therefore, they stick to the punctuation marks they’ve always used.
Now it’s time to dip your toe into the semicolon pool with the following activity. Select “yes” if the semicolon has been used appropriately. Choose “no” if the semicolon has been used incorrectly.
When you proofread your own writing, look for two related short sentences that could be joined by a semicolon. You’ll add variety to your writing while demonstrating that you can handle the semicolon—so there, Kurt Vonnegut!