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Rogue Semicolons

Rogue Semicolons

By Miss Marm

Today, I got two emails that overlapped perfectly with each other.

The first:

I really need help with semi colons, colons, and commas. Sometimes when I get a question I believe its supposed to be a semicolon but it turns out to be colon.

The second:

I've always had a horrible time picking a topic and creating a thesis statement. My teacher has assigned a research paper about the civil war—any civil war topic of our choice. After some difficulty in choosing a topic, I decided to write about the conditions in the soldier camps.

Now, for the thesis. Siggghh. Everything I've read about thesis statements warns about weak statements, and I'm afraid mine will turn out weak.

Please, help with this:

Although civil war soldiers fought a war and became heros of history, their daily living conditions; concerning shelter, clothes, and food; were sparse.

Let's go over two basic rules.

1. Use semicolons to connect two related independent clauses.
For example: One minute, I was doing my homework; the next minute, I was dreaming about eating brunch with Dan Bergstein.

2. If items in a list are clauses punctuated with commas, separate the clauses with semicolons.
For example: For brunch, I must have salmon, capers, and a bagel; a mimosa, heavy on the champagne; and a side of blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries, lightly drizzled with honey.

Because the items on the Civil War Sparkler's list aren't clauses punctuated with commas, they do not need to be separated with semicolons. And because "concerning shelter, clothes, and food; were sparse" isn't an independent clause, it shouldn't be connected to the first half of the sentence with a semicolon.

You could rewrite like this:

Civil War soldiers'  living conditions—their shelter, clothes, and food—were inadequate.

or like this:

Civil War soldiers endured harsh living conditions; their shelter, clothes, and food were inadequate.

Side note: Because I wasn't sure what this Sparkler meant by the first half of the sentence (maybe that it's amazing Civil War soldiers became heroes even though they were hungry and exhausted?), I killed it. This isn't a thesis yet, since it merely expresses a fact, but at least we've gotten rid of those two rogue semicolons.

Tomorrow, fun with colons! (Why are you looking at me like that?)

Send your grammar questions and questionable jokes to missmarm@sparknotes.com.

Topics: ultimate style, the rules, semicolons, colons
 

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