Eclectic Blog

Don't fear the semicolon!

The semicolon has a reputation as being a difficult punctuation mark. In fact, it’s one of the easiest punctuation marks to use!

Read these two short sentences: We discussed the business proposal. We decided not to give the group its funding.

It’s quite choppy, eh? To make it less choppy, replace the period with a semicolon, like this: We discussed the business proposal; we decided not to give the group its funding.

Imagine the period like a stop sign and the semicolon like a yield sign. Do you want to stop one sentence before beginning the next, or do you want to link the two together? It’s up to you to decide.

Now, you’re probably thinking – this example is still too choppy. Okay, fine. Let’s add the word “however”: We discussed the business proposal; however, we didn’t give the group its funding.

See how there is a semicolon before “however” and a comma after “however”? Many people will put a comma both before and after the word “however”. Semicolons can replace a period, commas cannot. Remember, if you can use a period, then you can use a semicolon.

Here are a few more samples for you:

I didn’t agree with my manager’s position; however, there was nothing I could change.

The recession hit us hard; therefore, we had to lay off some staff.

I’m not concerned; in my opinion, everyone is on track.

A Word of Caution: Although you can now use the semicolon with confidence, be careful with its overuse. Use the semicolon only when linking two short sentences that are closely related. If you link two longer sentences, it will decrease the overall readability.

Quotes and Thoughts

Hello U of M participants!

Here is the quote regarding the use of specific langauge:

"Like it or not: the degree to which you speak in abstractions (fuzzies) is the degree to which you hand over to someone else the power to say what you mean."  Dr. Robert F. Mager, What Every Manager Should Know About Training

And here are two links for you:

Politics and the English Language (George Orwell, 1946)

Seven Words Not To Use In Plain Language (Literacy Partners of Manitoba)

Using a Comma before an "and"

Have you ever been told that an and replaces the comma? This rule is yet another example of a half-learned rule. It’s not 100% true.

If you’re listing three or more items and the items are easy to separate, you can leave out the comma before the and. However, if the reader may misinterpret your list, in some way, you should insert the comma before the and to ensure all readers will understand the sentence completely.

Here’s an example where using a comma before the and is important for the readers’ understanding.

The CEO willed his fortune to his children, Alice and Henry.

Notice in this sentence, when you leave out the comma before the and, the reader can interpret it in two ways.

1. The CEO could be willing his fortune to his children, who are Alice and Henry. OR

2. The CEO could be willing his fortune to four or more people – to his children, to Alice, and to Henry.

This sentence is a great example of where the comma is necessary before the and to ensure there is no misinterpretation. Here are two ways to solve this clarity issue.

If you want the first interpretation, you can rewrite it as

The CEO willed his fortune to Alice and Henry, his children.

If you want the second interpretation, you can rewrite it as

The CEO willed his fortune to his children, Alice, and Henry.

The Spoon Theory

Hello Managing your Priorities Participants,

I had a great session with you this week as we went on our journey discovering what our current goals are and how we are going to achieve them.

As promised, here is the link that explains the Spoon Theory. My friend shared this theory with me, and I want to pass it on to you. Enjoy!

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