Blog | Apr 8, 2011 | 10 Comments

[introducing the semicolon]

[have you two met?]

I recently surprised my college-age daughter, the one who just received an Associate’s degree in Journalism, by telling her that people think the semicolon is pretentious. In fact, I think it’s on the way out altogether.

I’ve been called a lot of things, but a snob? For using a semicolon?

Yep, a client said it was snobbish to use semicolons. He was paying, so I broke his run-on sentence into two sentences instead. But I’ve been pondering this question for months.

What is punctuation for, anyway?

Comprehension. Emphasis. Organization. Connection. Efficiency. Respect for the reader.

What else? And don’t say “showing off.”

I’ve noticed that many bloggers suck at punctuation.

Yep, I said “suck” in a public piece of writing. I wouldn’t say it if I wasn’t frustrated. Punctuation in English is NOT easy, and the rules seem to be pretty fluid, but I’m tired of all the basic mistakes.

Like “this”.

And this that and the other thing.

Plus Im thinking about other sentences where the writer goes on and on for a whole paragraph and you really need a breather with a comma or even a set of parentheses but you have to keep going to the end then you just have to read it again to try to understand it thats such a waste of time.

And then theres the basic sentence like this with two different clauses without any kind of connector it needs a semicolon to stop the madness.

However, at this point, I have to admit that the semicolon is the least of our worries.

Let it die. We have bigger problems.

Some other fun reading about punctuation:

Sex and the semicolon

Facebook Group: I think you’re a jackass if you overuse the semicolon

“Americans see the semicolon as punctuation’s axis of evil” – Pause Celebre

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Author: Claire Wagner

I'm a seasoned freelance writer/editor and an enthusiastic community manager. I'm passionate about developing and sharing good content.


I think the semicolon is smug. Then again, I think the same thing about the number four and raisins.


Claire Wagner Reply:

I hate raisins, too. As for the semicolon, maybe we don’t need it. Yesterday, I found myself about to use it, but I put in an em dash instead. I’m just worried that all punctuation is going out the window because it’s inconvenient or our schools our failing. Or something.


P.S. Jones


I love this rant, Claire! I agree we have much bigger problems.

It seems to me that now the semicolon is almost a matter of tone and style rather than correctness. For web writing, a semicolon is overkill – use short sentences instead. For offline (paper) pieces with an informal or direct tone, use an m-dash. And for a more formal tone, the semicolon works well. For example, I’ve written for European-based companies that don’t ever want to use the second-person singular in their writing – the semi-colon fits the more formal and indirect tone/style they like.


Claire Wagner Reply:

Anne, I agree. And I love em-dashes. (I learned to write them as “em,” but I’m not sure why.) I used one instead of a semicolon yesterday. One funny note: on my first draft, I wrote “semi-colon.” Didn’t that used to be the name?


Anne Janzer


Sadly, I could be the object lesson of the blogger who abuses any and all grammatical rules. Punctuation is liberally assaulted by me on a consistent basis. I’d worry more about it if my own blog wasn’t an entirely egocentric exercise between me and the ether. I figure anyone kind enough to read through my mental meanderings will consider my lack luster grasp of my native language a small problem when compared to my other insanities/inanities.


Claire Wagner Reply:

Inanities and poor pu ctuation are perfectly acceptable in “eccentric” blogs!




I fear I may just have to be one of the smug ones. I use the semicolon plenty and I wasn’t aware that people look down on those who use it properly. Oh well, they’ll just have to deal if they’re reading my blog. It’s my space, my tone and my correct use of punctuation. ::shrug::

Plus, I have this thing about talking down to people. You can use a conversational tone and use a semicolon properly. I do it all the time. So I don’t think it gives off an air of formality at all. But I’m guessing a lot of people generally don’t know how to use it, so you don’t see it as often as you might see other forms of punctuation. Hence, people think it’s formal or pretentious.

I don’t see how punctuation of any kind can be pretentious. That’s like saying spelling a word correctly is pretentious when you could just use a shorter, more dumbed down word. Convey your idea and learn how punctuation works. It seems as simple as that.

I wonder what Mignon would say about this. 🙂


Claire Wagner Reply:

Candace, thank you for such a well-written defense. Punctuation is so very helpful, yet people act like it just gets in the way. Sometimes I think people don’t want to organize their thoughts–which means they don’t really care about their readers after all.


Candace Nicholson


Readers are lazy; a challenge to some writers, an excuse for others.
Readers are lazy—a challenge to some writers, an excuse for others.

Which punctuation works better? I prefer the semicolon, but the em dash works, too.

Readers are also indifferent, distracted and unwilling to stop long enough to really read. If we writers are to communicate successfully, we must do the hard work. If a semicolon does the job, use it…and every other trick in your writer’s toolbox. Good writing isn’t pretentious, its a joy.

Congratulations to your daughter on her Associate’s Degree in Journalism!


Claire Wagner Reply:

Bill, so nice to “see” you here; I respect your opinions as a long-time writer and marketer. Since you asked, I’ll say that I actually prefer the em dash a lot of the time. It’s easier to read on the web and it just seems more dramatic. But sometimes it’s too dramatic, I think. I love your final sentiment about good writing and the joy it can bring. Thanks!




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