Why You Need to Care About Semicolons

When you start dating someone you will naturally want to know if he or she uses drugs.  It’s less likely you’ll want to know if he or she uses semicolons – unless you believe that the answer will lead to marriage. We can’t recall if it started that way for Virginia and Leonard Woolf or Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, but we know from a recent wedding announcement in New York Times that that’s how it started for Jennifer Miller and Jason Feifer.

“Both were blasting through the often less-than-literate listings of online dating sites,” writes Andrew L. Yarrow, “when Mr. Feifer’s e-mail message on OKCupid.com caught Ms. Miller’s eye for reasons less romantic than grammatical. ‘He used a semicolon correctly; that was reason enough to get a drink with him,’ the 31-year-old author of Inheriting the Holy Land recalled.”

The rest is history, as you will see if you care to read details of their wedding announcement.

So, if you’re entering into a relationship and suspect your love object is scrutinizing your emails for solecisms, you might want to refresh your understanding of this subtle point of grammar.

Melissa Donovan in WritingForward.com has this to say about it:

#The semicolon establishes a close connection between two sentences or independent clauses.
#A semicolon can replace conjunctions and or but.
Semicolons indicate a stronger separation than a comma but weaker than a period.
#A semicolon is often used in lists to separate items when some of the items in listed subsets require commas.
#The semicolon is always followed by a lower case letter with proper nouns being the only exception (proper nouns are always capitalized).
#Semicolon use can be applied to separate two clauses or sentences that are saying the same thing in different ways.
#As with other punctuation marks that denote the end of a clause or sentence, there is no space between the semicolon and the word preceding it; there should be a single space after the semicolon.

#I love music; however, I haven’t played my own guitar in several years.
#I’m fascinated by names and their meanings; Melissa means honey bee.
#There’s nothing like the gentle drum of water hitting against the window pane; I love the rain.

So, lovers, remember this: when you email your beloved, pay heed to those semicolons; they could save your relationship.

Richard Curtis



4 Responses to Why You Need to Care About Semicolons

  1. As my old history teacher used to say,55 years ago: If you want to judge the quality of a man’s thinking, count his semicolons.

  2. @Michael Allen: I’d submit that it’s a better barometer of how much more intellectual than elegant he wants his prose to appear.

    @Richard Curtis: Out of curiosity I did a search on the novel I’m trying to get finished to send to you before the decade is out, an in 128,000 words there isn’t a single semicolon. Or colon. Or exclamation point.

    I’d avoid quotation marks in dialogue, too, if I thought you wouldn’t call me up and give me one of those patient-yet-weary speeches you inevitably have to give me. I recognize it as an art-vs.-commerce issue and I elected for the more practical side of that one. Aren’t you proud of me?

  3. Ooh, that’s a harder search & replace. Damn. And here I thought I was being all avant garde.

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