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    Quick and Dirty Semicolons

    The semicolon is a punctuation mark that puzzles many writers. It's an odd duck that looks a lot like a comma, so it feels like it should be interchangeable with the comma. However, the semicolon has its own separate function, and it should be used sparingly and with caution.

    There are a few places where a semicolon is appropriate and essential. The most common case where a semicolon should be used is between two independent clauses (i.e., phrases that can be complete sentences if they stand alone) that are closely related and that are not joined by a coordinating conjunction (e.g., and, or, but).

    Consider the following sentence: "My daughter is very talented; she sings very well." The two independent clauses are closely related to one another, and the meaning would subtly change if they were joined by a conjunction (as in, "My daughter is very talented, and she sings very well."). In this case, the best way to get your point across is the join the two closely related clauses by a semicolon.

    Another case where semicolons should especially be used is between independent clauses when the second independent clause is preceded by the following adverbs: then, however, thus, hence, indeed, accordingly, besides, and therefore. For example: "I love to read; therefore, I own a lot of books."

    Semicolons should also be used when in items are listed in a series that have internal punctuation. For example, "On our vacation, we visited Seattle, Washington; San Diego, California; and Portland, Oregon." In cases like this, it is important to use a semicolon to avoid confusion, especially in longer sentences.

    A final case where semicolons are used pertains mainly to Christian writing. According to the Christian Writer's Manual of Style, semicolons should be used to separate Scripture references within parentheses. For example: "(James 1:3; 5:8; John 3:16)." Some Christian publishers vary from this style, but the industry standard is to do it in this way.

    There are other limited cases where a semicolon might be used, but this quick guide will cover most cases. Feel free to comment with any specific questions, and as always, I'll be happy to provide some guidance.

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