Saturday, September 15, 2007

FANBOYS and the Semicolon

Let us consider today the semicolon. Young folks are commonly taught to use a comma to separate two independent clauses (ones that could stand alone as a full sentence) when one of the FANBOYS connects them. [For those of you who don't know, the FANBOYS are for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so.] If you use a longer word – therefore, otherwise, moreover – you are “supposed” to use a semicolon to connect the clauses into one sentence.

Why do I mention it? Because on-line writing flies in the face of these rules. Unless you have a long list or one that contains commas in the items, you don't need the semicolon at all.

When writing for the Internet, less is more. You end up with something like, “I must study French this year; otherwise my trip to Alsace will be difficult to enjoy.” Your readers are so bored by the end of this construction that they are dreaming of the Eiffel Tower instead of reading.

If you find yourself writing sentences linked with semicolons, consider whether they ought not to be separated or combined more closely. You could write, “I must study French this year. I will not enjoy my trip to Alsace without it.” That offers more description and still emphasizes the connection between the two ideas.

You could also write, “I must study French this year to use on my trip to Alsace.” This eliminates that enjoyment factor (of course you'll enjoy the beautiful region and its tasty wines) and puts the focus squarely on the two important ideas: studying French and taking a trip. It saves a few words, too. It also lets you put the discussion of enjoying Alsace in its own paragraph, where it belongs.

Why would you write such a sentence? Pretend you're writing an article about planning that trip. You can use the idea to introduce the topic of how to choose which region of France to visit.

You can parley that into a series on planning trips – learning languages, booking tours, finding inexpensive transportation, selecting hotels – every aspect can have its own article. By the time you've thoroughly written about the topic, you've got an e-book on your hands. Package it well, sell it on Amazon and Squidoo, and you can pay for a trip to a whole new continent. All from leaving out the semicolons.




I pull off semicolons in my writing, but I guess it's my "voice." I like semicolons.

At any rate, question: what grammar source do you reference to use " - " as " — "?