Thursday, August 25, 2011

Semicolon

There are two main uses for the semicolon: (1) linking of independent clauses and (2) listing of items that contain commas.

(1) LINKING OF INDEPENDENT CLAUSES. The semicolon can be used to link two independent clauses. Examples:
  • Athena is the goddess of wisdom; Aphrodite is the goddess of love.
  • The god Odin has two ravens, Huginn and Munin; their names mean "Thought" and "Memory" in English.
The semicolon indicates that the two statements are very closely related in some way, but the exact nature of that relationship is not spelled out.

When a conjunctive adverb connects two independent clauses in one sentence, it is preceded by a semicolon and followed by a comma (list of conjunctive adverbs). Examples:
  • Vishnu is famous his many avatars; for example, Rama and Krishna are both avatars of Vishnu.
  • The lion is king of the beasts; nevertheless, he needed the help of a tiny mouse to escape from the hunter's net.

Comma versus semicolon
. You cannot use a comma to join two independent clauses. If you try to do that, the result with be a type of run-on sentence known as a "comma splice."
ERROR: Demeter is the goddess of agriculture, Persephone is her daughter.
You can correct this error by using a semicolon instead of a colon:
CORRECTED: Demeter is the goddess of agriculture; Persephone is her daughter.
Another option is to break up the run-on sentence into two separate sentences:
CORRECTED: Demeter is the goddess of agriculture. Persephone is her daughter.

Independent clauses only. If the two clauses cannot stand on their own as independent statements, then you cannot use a semicolon to join them.
ERROR: Ravana had many wives; although Mandodari was his favorite.
You can correct this error by using a comma instead of a semicolon:
CORRECTED: Ravana had many wives, although Mandodari was his favorite.

(2) LISTING OF ITEMS THAT CONTAIN COMMAS
. You need to use a semicolon to separate items in a list when one or more of the items in that contain a comma. Examples:
  • Hercules battled many monsters: the Hydra, who had many heads; the Stymphalian birds, who were man-eaters; and Cerberus, the three-headed dog of hell.
  • The animal avatars of Vishnu are Matsya, the fish; Kurma, the turtle; Varaha, the boar; and Narasimha, the man-lion.
Normally items in a list are separated by commas. In this case, the semicolons are used to avoid ambiguity, since the list items themselves contain commas.

Find out more about the semicolon here: SEMICOLON.



The god Odin has two ravens, Huginn and Munin;
their names mean "Thought" and "Memory" in English.

(image source)

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