River Wissey Lovell Fuller


July 2003

Comma and read an exclamation to stop the decline of the semi-colon

The June issue of the Village Pump caused me consternation! My article An Illegal War contained a defective sentence about the UN: "Any authority it possesses must rest upon international law and the wishes of the majority, it needs to be admitted - without recrimination - that the war was illegal."

The reason for my trauma was that a comma had replaced the semicolon I believed I had written! The mistake left me open to the charge that I am semi-literate! Having composed myself, I decided to sound off in defence of the semicolon! It is an ancient and useful device but seems not to be used much nowadays and may not be well understood! So here starts my campaign to save the semicolon!

Basically the semicolon is a pause which is longer than the pause indicated by a comma but slighter than the pause indicated by a full stop. The semicolon is used to separate two or more closely related, independent statements from one another. Each statement must be a sentence in its own right. The semicolon can also be used to join two sentences which indicate a sharp contrast. The third use of the semicolon is in long, complicated lists.

I should now illustrate the rules with examples but am disinclined to do so because I have suddenly lost interest in the campaign to save the semicolon! Those who need to know can look up a grammar book in a public library! My sudden loss of interest is because I now realise that I have been barking up the wrong tree! A check on my copy of the article I submitted shows that the offending comma replaced not a semicolon but a full stop!

That means the Village Pump was not guilty of deliberately assaulting the semicolon. It was guilty of no more than a simple misprint of the sort that is bound to happen occasionally. Looking at the rest of the June issue, I see that its editing standard is exemplary; it is much better, for example, than the Guardian!

Nevertheless, I hope the above words will do a little something to help save the semicolon. What really riles me, however, is excessive use of the exclamation mark!!!

Alan Whitford

Copyright remains with independent content providers where specified, including but not limited to Village Pump contributors. All rights reserved.