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Advanced Composition 

Using the Semicolon (Wisely and Well)

January 30, 2002

A good writer knows about the semicolon; a great writer uses them wisely and well. Note how the previous sentence provides balanced, comparable ideas. Effective semicolon use shows you are a sophisticated writer. Beware, however, of getting that dreadful novice writer's disease: "semicolonitis"!

Semicolons in Use:

Use for joining two independent clauses in a compound sentence.

For example: Wee Seng likes to sing; I prefer to dance. Note that the previous sentence could be written using a conjunction (FANBOYS). The use of a semicolon creates a slightly different effect. (Wee Seng likes to sing, but I prefer to dance. The "but" makes for a stronger contrast, doesn't it?)

Use for joining two independent clauses with a logical relationship using a conjunctive adverb (however, nevertheless, on the contrary, therefore, besides. . . ).

For example: Cigarette smoking is clearly dangerous to our health; still, millions of Canadians continue to smoke. Note how a strong contrast between the two independent clauses is established by the semicolon. The effect of using only a conjunction would weaken the contrast a little. (But, would be good if you want a less strong contrast, of course.)

Tonight's Writing Assignment:

All of us, sometimes, take a chance or do something a bit dangerous. Write a paragraph about your own personal experience with taking risks (one or more). For example, many of us will, on occasion, run a red light. Use the semicolon twice: once as in the first example; the other as in the second.

Teacher Writing Sample on this topic.


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