The Semicolon: Thumbs Up, or Down?

Now here's a guy who takes his punctuation seriously.

This morning I received an email from a friend that in part said, “I’ve decided to begin a petition to eradicate the semicolon, as it is rarely used correctly. Want to join?”

Upon the instant I was appalled; I was aghast; I was mortified. I sent milk spewing everywhere, since just then I was also eating a bowl of Life cereal (which, since it’s not quite sweet enough, is perfectly and even poetically named).

I immediately fired back to my friend this missile of a missive:

God, no. I love and constantly use the semicolon; I wholly depend upon it. You start a club about how to use the semicolon correctly, and I’m your man. But eradicate it? No, no, no, no, no. We only have 13 punctuation marks, total. I need the semicolon. NEED, I SAY!

The fact that you are reading this blog tells me that you are literate: sophisticated, educated, knowledgable knowledgible knowligable super-smart. And I happen to know that my semicolon-disparaging friend isn’t exactly an instantly speechless admirer of shiny objects.

So I ask you, reader: What think you of this movement I have reason to know is burgeoning out there, of eradicating the semicolon? Are you for that? Is anyone? Do people really not know how to use this noblest (if most finicky) of punctuation marks?

What say you, reader? Thumbs up or down for Ye Oldye Semicolon?

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • mark lattimore

    Actually, I`m in favor of semicolons AND apostrophes.

  • Hah! Bless you, brother, in all your punctuational endeavors. (Hey, speaking of which, did you ever get the copy of Comma Sense I sent you for winning my "Guess What This Is" contest? (That's the book I offered as a prize right? Or was it "I'm OK"? Whichever it was, I mailed it to you weeks ago. Didya get it?)

  • Deana

    What would we do with the King James Version of the Bible without the semicolons?!!! Would it still be the only inspired Word of God without them? YIKES! Hear the sarcasm in my voice!

    I love semicolons especially when followed by good news!

  • My life depends on the semicolon. Anyone who has read my work or blogs will vouche for this. I have almost perfected the "air semicolon" gesture. It's tricky, but it's coming together.

  • Oh, Tammy. I almost feel sorry for you.


    (Bethany: hilarious on the air quotes!)

  • I love semi-colons, they're like the middle children of the punctuation family, often overlooked by folks for the stronger and cuter siblings.

  • So THAT'S why your husband always wears tin-foil suits, Tammy!

    Are you sufficiently chagrined, you deriserer of the semi-precious semicolon, to see here this VAST outpouring of the punctuation mark which you DARED to inferred inferior?

  • mark lattimore

    I did get the "I`m OK" book. Thank you! Unfortunately, assigned reading has taken precedence over extra-curricular reading. I hope to get to it over Christmas break. Maybe I`ll suggest it to a prof as required reading next semester. Be well.

  • Richard Lubbers

    By the way, John, I love the semi-colon; it's my favoritist punctuation.

    Tin Man Lubbers

  • I heart semicolons.

  • Wait, I'm confused. Are we talking about apostrophes or semicolons? Both of which I enjoy, by the way.

  • Semicolons. I, too, am not actually how it is we swerved into the possibility of apostrophe apostasy … What I DO know is that I'm very heartened by this manifested out-and-out hearting of semicolons.

  • AboundingJoy

    John, I am officially chasing you down through cyberspace. On top of following your every Tweet, I'm now your FB fan and will begin devouring your blog. Thanks for trying God's patience all these years…and keeping things are so entertaining. 🙂

  • Hey Bethany, I have perfected the “air semi-colon”. You need to see it! By the way, am I the only one who giggles when they say colon?

    John, I DO drool when I see shiny objects!

    The much awaiting grouchy “note” has been posted on my Facebook page. Feel free to browse!

  • Nancy

    John, the timing of your post is slightly unnerving. Let me explain. Earlier this week, my husband and I went to a meeting in a building, the cornerstone of which contained this inscription: Love your neighbor as yourself; Yes, that's right, the inscription ended with a semicolon! (Actually you can hardly see it as I typed it here). I could not get it off my mind all week. I envisioned myself with some kind of compound, filling in the semicolon. Tonight we revisited the site, and I had the nerve to tell my husband about my eccentric aversion to the semicolon. He thought it was hilarious and couldn't believe I could obsess about such a thing. THEN, we got home and read your blog, so I just had to comment! Though my post may suggest that I am not a fan of semicolon's, I happily vote FOR semicolon's. I have never been confused about when to use one, which is something I cannot say about some OTHER punctuation marks.

  • onemansbeliefs

    I prefer my colon whole. I feel just a little cheated when offered a semicolon, so I could do without them. That being said, I could live without half a colon, but whatever you do, do not take away my colon…

  • Abounding: Thank you! What a lovely thing to say. You've been a great Twitter-pal; your tweets are wonderful. Thanks too, for sure, for joining my fan page. I appreciate the support.

    Nancy: What an UNBELIEVABLE semicolon story!!! (Oh, people: Usage Rule. One good one for the semicolon: If everything that follows it doesn't make for a complete sentence, you've misused it.)

    Oneman" I, too, prefer your colon whole.

  • brdonaldson

    Semi-colon, m-dash….m-dash, semi-colon…pick one.

  • textjunkie

    Count me as a semi-colon fan; I have a hard time writing a sentence without one. 🙂

  • Careful use of the semicolon can allow you to write an entire page of text without one period. It's awesome! The ultimate vanquisher of run-on sentences. I am partial to the ellipsis also (is that considered punctuation?). It seems to make the text more conversational. In fact where you wrote " Now then. As a reader of my blog" , I would have written Now then…as a reader of my blog>/i>. To me, It evokes the conversational pause, yet still maintains an unbroken stream of thought.

  • mm

    I lied. That does not exist. Or at least in any of the translations I can find. But i swore that once, I did read a version where the opening is at least all one 750 word paragraph. Oh well. Still, semicolons' rock.

  • Didn't Victor Borge have an air semicolon in his "Spoken Punctuation"?

    I find the semicolon refreshing because only literate people think of writing compound sentences; therefore, it's much more rarely misused compared to the others. (Though they will go on and stick commas in there.)

    And all together: "Ohhh, if it's supposed to be a possessive, it's just i-t-s, and if it's supposed to be a contraction, then it's i-t-apostrophe-s! Scalawag."

  • Toots

    I too love the semicolon and I am convinced I neither use it correctly nor care!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And by the way, did I mention I l love the exclamation mark too!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I think why I like the semicolon the best is because it appears to be undecided about itself, a little like myself. Somedays it probably sees itself as a period and other days it feels more like a comma. Why be defined by labels it proudly declares. ( I had to really resist the temptation to use an exclamation mark at the end of my last sentence!);

  • mm

    I love the semicolon. Please don’t get rid of it! Without the semicolon, the world would have never gotten to witness the worlds finest display of punctuation ever: Gogol’s two page sentence which is the opening to “The Overcoat”.

  • I thought you had to have a colostomy to use a semicolon; fortunately that hasn’t happened to me.

  • Anita

    While I have no emotional attachment to the semi-colon do NOT mess with the mighty trifeta of punctuation…the three magic orbs of pause…reflect…and continue. Seriously John…leave them alone….or else.

  • Frank Dulohan


  • Mike S

    And all this time I thought a semi-colon was a WalMart brand of perfume. My education continues…

  • Mike: Okay, that was pretty much the FUNNIEST blog comment ever.

  • Richard Lubbers

    Well, John, this is all very impressive; you received such an outpouring of support for the semicolon (;).

    But wasn't Tammy proposing a petition to eradicate the apostrophe (')? We see the misuse of that punctuation mark all over the world of signage.

  • I love the semicolon; how else could we write lists that include commas without creating awkward, run-on, senseless sentences? 😀

  • Amen to that, Emanden.

  • megan

    I use the semicolon, and I like to use it. I NEED to use it when I use the word whereas. Yes, many people have abandonned the introductory clause; whereas construction in favor of the introductory clause, whereas construction, but I want more than a momentary pause between clauses when I use whereas. I also like to use it with numbered lists.

    As for apostrophes, yes I like those, too. I just wish people would learn to use them correctly. sigh.

  • Candace

    I think we should eradicate EVERYTHING that people seldom do/use correctly. Just think of all the problems that would solve. ;-0

  • A’isha

    No way! Apostrophes and semi-colons are essential to the English language. People who for some reason can’t be bothered with learning the correct usage of those and other punctuation marks is no reason for the rest of us to write like uneducated imbeciles. (And don’t get me started on the atrocities of misspelling common words and using incorrect words. Come on people, I’m not going to go LAY down. I’m going to go lie down or I’m going to lay my body down. Grrr, that’s my latest pet peeve!)

  • You can eradicate the semicolon when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers. A period does not do justice to two separate sentences with related ideas (e.g., “He blogs for Huffington Post; he’s a liberal”), and just think of the sentence mayhem for lists that contain single subjects that have commas in them (“Her favorite movies are The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly; Love, Actually; and Die Hard” becomes “Her favorite movies are The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, Love, Actually, and Die Hard”).

    Long live the semicolon. Educate the masses.

  • Mary G

    YES!!!! I LOVED Victor Borge’s semi-colon! I’m also QUITE fond of exclamation points, and have to seriously restrict myself to not over using them. Seriously.

  • Allen

    I support all the well-considered responses above concerning the semicolon; it also makes the winky emoticon! 😉

  • Erika

    Though I am an “instantly speechless admirer of shiny objects” (ADD will do that) I do love the semicolon 🙂

  • Peet

    Sure! Let’s get rid of the semi-colon! Why confuse people with even moderately complex sentence structures? We, as a culture, getting close to communicating solely via emoticons anyway. Was it someone from the Bush Administration who said, “We don’t do nuance”? A prophet, I tell you. IMHO. OMG. LOL.

    My own opinion: semi-colons, like apostrophes, must be used ONLY by people who know how to wield them. If only we had some kind of mechanism where we could instruct people on their proper use….a kind of…room, where people—maybe even young children—would sit and have someone explain proper grammar. There might even be a way of questioning these people to see if they understood. Have them demonstrate proper usage in some kind of timed environment….crazy talk, I know.

  • Mindy

    I vote for the eradication of the misuse of the semicolon or the apostrophe and the overuse of the exclamation point. Not every sentence you write is that exciting, dammit! I want a snazzy shocky-thing built into all keyboards, ready to zap a volt through the fingers of those who dare to hit “send” whilst an apostrophe dangles precariously or a semicolon is rudely trod upon by an inappropriate clause. More than 2% of your sentences end in exclamation points? No go. Not only will the “send/submit” button not work until said error is corrected, the zapping will continue – maybe even increasing in voltage, until it is fixed.

    ::::::cue maniacal laughter::::::

    That’ll teach ’em . . . .

  • I think the problem is poor-naming. From my analytical mind, semicolon is ½ of a colon. A colon has two dots. One dot should be semicolon. However, one dot is called a period, which is confusing. Maybe we should rename semicolon to period-comma. I mean, that is what it is, right?