• Semi-Colons

    A semi-colon has two functions. The first is to join two independent clauses. The second is to separate items in a list that already have commas in them.

    Semi-Colon Main Function: Joining Independent Clauses

    Let’s learn the first function first. What does it mean “to join two independent clauses”? First, you must know what a clause is. A clause has two parts: a subject, which is a noun or noun phrase, and a predicate, which is a verb or verb phrase. A noun is a person, place or thing. A verb is an action.

    So, first you will join a subject and a predicate to make an independent clause. An independent clause is a complete sentence. (A dependent clause has an extra word at the beginning, like “if” or “because,” that makes it need another clause to be a complete sentence.) Then, if you want to join two independent clauses in the same sentence, you must use a semi-colon, not a comma. If you use a comma, that would be the kind of error known as a “comma splice.”

    To Do
    1. Practice recognizing comma splices and heroically replacing them with semi-colons in the worksheet below (also in a Word doc herein a Word Doc here).
    2. Heroically find all the comma splices you can in a story or essay you wrote, and replace them with semi-colons.  
    3. Using the second worksheet below (in that same Word docthat same Word doc), study what it means to use semi-colons to separate items in a list that have commas in them. Then practice writing sentences like that in the space provided.
    4. Correctly avoid comma splices and use semi-colons in both the above ways as necessary in all your writing for the rest of your life. Thanks.


    Name ________________________________


    Heroically Replacing Comma Splices With Semi-Colons

    A comma splice is the kind of error where you join two independent clauses with a comma. Below are ten short paragraphs. Each paragraph has one comma splice in it. Fix the comma splice by heroically turning it into a semi-colon. This can be done by drawing a nice fat dot over it, and circling it to make it extra-clear.

    1.     When at Grandma’s, I mostly run wild. I climb on her roof, I shout like a monster. The kids near her, who don’t know me, sometimes throw rocks at me. If they do, I throw my head at the rocks to try to get hit. I am not a smart person, but I do have an odd love of Emergency Rooms.


    2.     With difficulty, I smile. I am a happy soul, but most folks don’t know this. It’s because I have an unusual medical condition, my lips are extremely heavy. Ironically, when I’m happy and no one can tell, this makes me sad.


    3.      My uncle’s favorite activities are muskrat hunting, muskrat skinning, muskrat cooking and muskrat eating. Unfortunately, he is never happy because, first of all, he doesn’t have a gun, a knife, a stove or teeth. Also, we live in Manhattan, which has no muskrats. I think my uncle is foolish, he should find new favorite activities instead of being sad.  


    4.      I watched you, you watched me back. It was like a game, though neither of us acknowledged it. Your nostrils flared, which I took as a sign. Unfortunately, I couldn’t decide what it meant. Did you love me like I love you, or did you hate me? Oh, Mirror, you are such a mystery.


    5.      In the Fortress of Solitude, Superman patches his tights. After his last battle, there are rips on both thighs. Oh, that grabby Lex Luthor! Sewing is not one of Superman’s super-powers, it is difficult because of the mightiness of his hands. He jabs himself mightily with the needle, says, “Jeez, Louise,” and thinks, Would Lois Lane like the nickname “Louise”? Before he finishes sewing his tights, he decides to remove them. Even though he’s in his Fortress of Solitude, he still x-ray-looks through the crystal wall to make sure nobody’s looking.

    6.     Wishing for love and confusing that with pleasure, the orphan turns to drugs. It feels perfect at first, as if it’s everything she wants and needs, but then she feels worse than before whenever she’s not on them. Plus, they are expensive. She tries working at a fast food restaurant, but that can’t even pay her rent. A man offers her a job, he is a pimp. Now she is a drug-addicted prostitute, and although she still wishes for love, she will die of AIDS before she finds it. Hopefully, you will make life choices that lead to happiness, unlike Gracie Ann Calloughs.


    7.      A fuzzy talking bear, a magical unicorn and a fairy princess walk into a bar. “Sorry,” the bartender says, “we don’t serve magical creatures here.” The bear bites his face off, the unicorn gores him through the heart. The princess turns him into a centaur (with a bitten-off face and a gored heart.) “I’ll have a beer,” says the bear, but he pronounces “beer” like “bear” because he’s Australian or something, and that makes everyone but the centaur laugh. The princess pours them each a drink, including the centaur, there on the floor. The centaur doesn’t look up or say a thing, and he doesn’t drink the drink, even after they’ve gone.


    8.      A boy, Martin, reads the word “distraught” in a dictionary, sees that it means “very sad and upset,” and realizes that it applies to him. He’s bullied at school, he wears glasses and gets called “Nearsighted Martin.” He decides to get laser surgery, so he shops around and finds a bargain practitioner. The surgery goes well, and he doesn’t need glasses. Also, he now has eye-laser powers. Now, everyone is nice to him. Life is fine, he decides, as long as nothing is wrong with you.


    9.      A girl reads too many magazines, and she decides she’s ugly. Really, she’s beautiful, but she doesn’t believe it anymore. Some would say the problem is in society, others would say it is in her head. Either way, hating yourself is not beautiful. So start by being beautiful on the inside, and love yourself for who you are, Nature Girl.


    10. A boy is spoiled rotten, and he confuses having fun with having meaning in his life. Any time something is not fun, he refuses to do it. All his life, he has lots of fun. Then, he gets cancer and runs out of money. Nobody visits or helps him, how would that be fun for them? The meaning of life is helping others, he decides, then dies alone.  



    Semi-Colon Function #2: Separating Items in a List That Already Have Commas in Them

    This separates big parts of a sentence in a different way than small parts of the sentence, you might say.

    Here’s one example:

    From the store, please pick up ten rolls of heat-resistant, silver, Eastern-European duct tape; two foot-long, hat-wearing, otherwise classic yellow rubber duckies; two gallons of Elmer’s day-old, non-toxic, strawberry-scented paste; and my tea party set.

    Note that you use a semi-colon before the last item in a comma-filled list even before the word “and.”

    Here’s another example:

    Her way with her parents was candid yet mannered; her way with her friends was wild, challenging and mischievous; her way with animals was still and loving.

    Do you get how to use a semi-colon to separate items in a list that already have commas in them?


    Not yet

    If you answered “yes,” please write a sentence below to demonstrate it.

    If you answered “not yet,” please write some sentences below to try to learn it:

Last Modified on August 17, 2016