22 February 2008

In praise of the semicolon

I'm a great fan of this little hybrid punctuation; in fact, I use it whenever possible. I like it almost as much as parentheses and maybe even a little bit more than the colon (about which I once wrote a longish poem, called--no, I'm not making this up--"Ode to the Colon").

The NYT a couple days ago had a fun article about a semicolon in New York City, with, ironically, an appended grammatical correction (of course an article about grammar is going to make a grammatical error in the title of a book on grammar).

Strangely enough, I think the article leaves out one of the crucial aspects of semicolon usage (the thing my students would always forget): the phrases on both sides of the semicolon should be complete sentences (i.e., should have both a subject and a verb). They could exist on their own as individual sentences, but the semicolon brings them together to suggest a closer relation than a period might, a little stitch in the page to sew two sentences together. (Exception to this rule: semicolons are sometimes used organizationally, to clarify complicated commas in a list of items.)

OK, OK, I'll stop with the grammar nerdiness now. But I can't leave without using a semicolon one more time; I've got to give the tiny winking guy his due.

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