Sunday, 8 March 2009

Semicolons; some thoughts...

In my occasional series on punctuation, I have reached the semicolon.

I love semicolons; I think they give a nice balance to a sentence, and use them all the time. I think I picked them up from Mary Renault, one of my favourite authors. Editors would take them out of her books, and she would put them back, firmly. Fay Weldon hated them, and that's another stroke in their favour as far as I'm concerned.

The great Lynne Truss, in Eats, Shoots and Leaves, says, 'The sub-text of a semicolon is, "Now this is a hint. The elements of this sentence, although grammatically distinct, are actually elements of a single notion. I can make it plainer for you - but hey! You're a reader! I don't need to draw you a map!"'

One of my favourite comments on Catch a Falling Star is the following:

Sorry Lexi,

But you don’t know how to use semi colons. And when I say ‘don’t know’ I don’t mean like you’re on the verge of understanding or you’re really close to some kind of epiphany in the field of punctuation. I mean, truly and seriously, you really really don’t know how to use semi colons.

Look at the semi colon you used after the word ‘sweatshirt’. That’s not just nasty, horrific or sickening, it’s unforgivable and almost without hope of redemption. I recently taught semi colons at a grammar school in Kent. The girls appreciated it and took much away from the lesson. You should have sat in on that lesson. You would benefit greatly from a lesson like that.

Believe in yourself (I do, in my weaker moments.)


PS: Put a full stop there. A full stop will make it right forever and for always.

PPS: Sorry Lexi. I think I’ve left red stains on those cream cushions.


  1. Apparently, "S" didn't know you had sailed through your "S" exams (I seem to recall them being the S exams; we don't have exams named "S" in America).

  2. Ah, my 'S' level English - but that was literature, not punctuation.

    Bet he hasn't got one, though.

  3. What the heck does the cream cushion bit refer to?

    "S" is a doof. Full stop.

  4. Doof is a nice word. Would we say wally or prat over here?

    Caz has an outside sofa with cream cushions, mentioned in chapter one.

  5. I think doof is a bit milder.


    It's a fun word.

    But one does not want to be known as a doof.

  6. The acid test of its severity is: would you call Odie a doof?

  7. Lord no!

    Odie is my Bududdlie. Also my Fuzzy Boy.

    On occasion I will call him Odiferous, but only with good cause.

    But doof?

    He hasn't the mental capacity. And I don't expect he ever will. But that's what makes him Odie.

  8. "Believe in yourself (I do, in my weaker moments.)"

    I quote S above.

    It should be:

    Believe in yourself (I do, in my weaker moments).

    An A+ for confidence, S.

  9. Ooh, very cutting, Anna - I've only recently acquired this information, from Lorraine, about when a full stop goes inside, and when outside, a bracket.

  10. Hi Lexi,

    Nice blog!

    I read Catch a Falling Star last year - maybe a year ago? Anyway, good news for you is that, of all the things I've read on Authonomy (and elsewhere) since then, I remember it! Congratulations for getting this far with it, I say. Anything more is icing on the cake. I really enjoyed it.

    As for semi-colons - I'm as fussy about their usage as anyone, but it seems language has changed recently. I have come to the conclusion that an author's use of colons/semi-colons/full-stops is part of one's individual style. Or perhaps down to the punctuation conventions of individual publishers. Either way... Strunk and White would be turning in their graves!

  11. Hi Stace,

    Thanks! I have to say, I want the icing on the cake. And candles, and those little silver ball things too.

    I have cut down my semi colon use lately. It's hard, but I'm taking one day at a time...