Real Writers Don’t Use Semicolons!

Okay, so the title isn’t exactly true. Bear with me… or if you prefer, bare with me. I don’t mind a little nudity now and then. Just keep the arse off the leather, man. Off the leather. (inside joke)

I DO NOT edit my blog posts as much as I should, usually in too big of a hurry to get the information out, so yes, sometimes I make mistakes. We all do.

I say this, because if I didn’t say it, sometimes some wise ass will come along and tell me where I dropped a comma or used too many periods in my ellipses, and of course, they always spell it ellipsis. When they insult my writing and editing, they should at least take the time to use the proper words. Plus, they aren’t periods unless they are being used as periods: like, you know, at the end of a sentence and such. Otherwise, they are just dots. Unless you accidentally killed a fly on your screen, then they are probably fly guts. If you’ll get a sponge, they’ll likely come off.

One of the things that amuses and frustrates me, depending on my mood, is the fact that I can spot a newbie writer a mile away when they send me a manuscript for editing.

How can I spot a newbie?

Because they make all the mistakes *I* used to make. All the mistakes you used to make, or perhaps, maybe, just maybe, you still do make. I still do sometimes, especially when I get in a hurry. I’m occasionally appalled at the rookie mistakes I’ll make when I re-read something I wrote in the flow. But that, my writerly friends, is what editing was invented for. Excuse, let me rephrase: That is for what editing was created. Or something like that.

I have a manuscript for a novel I wrote about 15 years ago… (<— look, it’s an ellipses – or is it an ellipsis? Pop quiz coming in a future blog; pay attention now.) I went back and read that manuscript a few nights ago, at least what I could stomach of it. Man, it was bad. I mean, it was really bad. Funny thing, that. I remember thinking how good it was back then. I remember how everyone else told me how good it was. Liars! Bah! Looking at how my writing has matured, I find it amusing now that back then I thought my writing was good, and now I question whether anything I write is good enough.

Funny how perspectives change.

Now… (<— look, another one!)

Back to semicolons.

One thing it seems newbie writers use frequently to try to show they know about writing is to use the mysterious semicolon. It’s like so many newbs seem to think that the semicolon is the mark of a real writer, and if they can throw one in there, they are above the masses, who actually don’t generally use semicolons.

Now…(<—gosh, I’m full of them today!) I like to write with a natural flow, more like I’m talking to you, telling a story. I like the natural ebb and flow of the lilting voice in my writing. I think it makes my writing easy to read and more relatable (<—Yes, I know that’s not a good word – it’s another Michyism.)

Basically, when I talk, I use commas (short pauses between thoughts and phrases to clarify intent), and I use periods (longer pauses between sentences so that you are able to take a breath and not die from asphyxiation when you’re trying to get a word in edgewise, particularly useful when speaking to your spouse, but not as useful when speaking to your teen child, because if you do, they use the pause as advantage to start speaking and stop listening, and that’s not really what you want, because then you’ll never get back control of the situation, and when that happens, well, all hell breaks loose… Wait. What was I talking about? Right, right, semicolons.

Sorry.

Okay…(<—- wow) I speak in commas, periods, and sometimes question marks and exclamation points, but I do not speak in semicolons. Yes, they have their place; they do. When creating a list of items in one sentence that requires the use of a comma separator for one or more list items, you would use the commas for the individual items and separate the items with a semi-colon.

For example: Michy, who is a writer extraordinary; her son, who is a brat fantastic; her daughter, who is the incredible missing person; and her love, her most favorite person, her best friend, who happens to be Jake the Dog, much to Ryan’s chagrin… (<—had to throw one in there) are all happy to be awake.

There you go. Proper use of a semicolon in a list with item comas. Or is that commas? I’d have definitely fallen into a comma by reading that. Or is that comas?

(shrug) (<—-a self created emoticon)

(Emoticon – n. sing. – A robot transformer, who was defeated by the decepticons in the great war.)

Other than that particular use of a semicolon, I don’t personally think a writer ever NEEDS to use a semicolon. But if you feel you absolutely MUST prove to the editor that you are such a professional writer that you can wield the power of the almighty semicolon, for grammar’s sake, please use it properly!

How?

So glad you asked.

You did ask, didn’t you?

Okay….(<— lookey there!)

A semicolon separates TWO COMPLETE SENTENCES that are closely related in meaning and intent, and usually without a conjunction. Personally, I think you should just use two sentences. However, I have occasionally used a semicolon here or there when the sentences were really short ones, or when one was longer and one was really short (two or three words), and it related to the other sentence. If you could place the word AND (or some other conjunction or joining or linking words) between two complete sentences and make a compound sentence out of it – if you remove the AND (or some other conjunction or joining or linking words) – you can replace it with a semicolon and be grammatically correct.

If, however, you would not put an AND (or some other conjunction or joining or linking words) in there because the two sentences aren’t related to each other, so they wouldn’t work in a compound sentence, then the semicolon doesn’t work. See? Easy as pie (which I’ve never understood, ’cause pie is damned hard to make if you want to make it right. I love millionaire’s pie and warm gooey pecan pie is yummy too).

Here’s a good rule to follow with semicolons: If you aren’t absolutely positive about how to use one, DON’T. Using a semicolon to impress an editor with your vast writing knowledge being more than the masses of degenerate and illiterate public, when said editor has been trained and educated in the proper use of semicolons, will not, in fact, impress said editor.

Instead, it will make said editor come to her blogs and post an entire blog post about how silly your semicolon looked. Like THAT would ever happen in real life.

And just to drive you insane(r):

Love and stuff,
Michy

 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Comments

comments

50 comments to Real Writers Don’t Use Semicolons!

  • DOTS & DASHES: QUEUE & AYE #1  says:

    […] Michy, I read a blog post the other day that said real writers don’t use semicolons. Is this true? Michy’s Answer: Of course that’s not true. I don’t know who could […]

  • WNed  says:

    In my never-to-be-released guide, “Semicolons In The Wild”, one reason I mention in favor of releasing a semicolon is when the second clause is a complete sentence, but makes more sense when connected to the first clause…(!)
    “I love semicolons; I really do!”

    “I really do!” is perfectly fine by itself, but makes much more sense when attached to its introductory clause. Can I please use semicolons now?

  • Michy  says:

    Yes! You have earned your semicolon badge! Level up!

    • WNed  says:

      šŸ™‚

  • JM Van Horn  says:

    Thanks for the info on use of a semicolon. I have tried to steer clear of them because they never felt right using them.

    Oh yes, almost forgot … (You had me laughing every time)

  • Derek Odom  says:

    Haha, nice video; it was annoying but accurate (Ɵ see what I did there?)

    Loved the post, too! I actually copied and pasted the rules into a Word doc for reference. I honestly feel very close to the semicolon and believe I use them correctly. I love it when authors use them, but I guess Iā€™m not the norm. As you know, Iā€™m a fan of Clive Barker, and that bloke uses the hell out of ’em.

    If he can, I can. *grin*

  • Bridget Ilene Delaney  says:

    One is an ellipsis. Two or more are ellipses. I have an ellipses addiction, at least when I am chatting with a friend. I use ellipses all the time; I know I shouldn’t, though.

    Bridget

    • Michy  says:

      Hey, Bridget – I have an addiction to them too! I’m in good company!

  • TJC  says:

    This is kind of a funny post; because in all technicality the reason you don’t use semicolons is because you fail to understand grammar.

    If you could write in the way English was intended, at least in modern times, you would realize that a paragraph should have only one Period.

    If your paragraphs have more than one idea within them; then you should split the paragraphs into two pieces, two paragraphs.

    If you are wondering how modern writers make good paragraphs; the answer is that they no longer have that ability; or so you would think; the fact is that real novelists, who use proper grammar, have that grammar removed by a copy-editor or do their own copy editing; yes good writers edit their own work; you see a good writer knows that they should use proper grammar in their first draft; then edit that draft for the lay person.

    The published artwork is converted for the lay person; unless that writing is from the former half of the 20th century; see Faulkner.

    You might be a more successful writer; if you could use proper grammar; I will refer you to The Elements of Style by Strunk; if you read it and understand it; which you will not; you seem to lack intelligence; then maybe you can improve your poor writing and your blog will not appear as unintelligible garbage.

    In Brief: the semicolon, in modern use, is for rough drafts only; every paragraph in a rough draft should have only one Period; then after writing a paper, the writer should go back and translate his or her work for average people; the people they are trying to entertain; proper grammar is designed so that you can write down a lot of ideas in a short time.

    • Michy  says:

      I’m a an editor by trade. I have worked as an editor for publishing houses for over 13 years. I frequently use semicolons, but I use them properly. You don’t.

      Your post is not only wrong, but it is rude. If you’re going to insult someone, you really should do a better job of writing properly when you do.

      The only thing unintelligible on my blog is your comment.

    • TJC  says:

      You may be an editor; but if I submitted work to you it would contain no semi-colons; if you read my post thoroughly, you would realize I copy-edit my first draft; proper punctuation is for idea organization; in modern times it should only be used as a tool to organize thoughts; since the advent of the female writer; women tend to organize their thoughts more efficiently than men; the semi-colon has gone out of proper usage.

      The problem is new writers should be taught proper grammar; essentially the reason you see the dreaded, wall-of-text, on most blogs; is that writers cannot organize their thoughts concisely; because the rough-draft is skipped and the first draft is written without a rough-draft.

    • Buffy  says:

      One period per paragraph? Good God… no doubt you’ve failed your ‘English composition for engineers’ class. Fortunately for you, you won’t have any more advanced language classes to worry about, and your future employers will, no doubt, assign someone to rewrite your reports into legible, comprehensible forms.

      Run along now. Let the adults talk. Feel free to come back and read things here later, when you discover you really don’t know everything.

  • TJC  says:

    This is just a follow up post: the reason your first draft should have proper punctuation; is because in the final draft, your product should be readable as if it had no punctuation; that is the principal of storytelling that is lost on young writers; though I am 22 years old and male and straight; so maybe you should ponder that over.

    • Michy  says:

      You should capitalize ‘the’ after the colon. There is no semicolon after punctuation (no punctuation should be there at all), and ‘principal’, really? LOL WTF does ‘straight’ have to do with anything?

      This was hilarious… your intent to make me look stupid only resulting in making yourself look that way. I love when trolls do that to themselves. Good job!

      • TJC  says:

        Spelling and capitalization mistakes are not a problem in a rough-draft; the problem with this blog posts is that it suggests a writer should not think before they write; which is what you seem to do quickly.

        • TJC  says:

          Correction* “This blogs posts:” You see even when I think quickly I make mistakes.

        • Michy  says:

          You obviously cannot read for comprehension, because nowhere does it suggest any such thing. And you’re still using semicolons incorrectly in every reply. Go away now. I won’t approve any more of your posts.

          • Michy  says:

            Correction: This blog’s posts.

            Even when you correct your corrections, you do so incorrectly.

          • TJC  says:

            What would it matter. I could rewrite this entire blog in under 250 words. I could rewrite it using only periods and commas. I could rewrite it without commas in 250 words.

            When you can properly manipulate the English; which is technically American English and not English at all; then you can write efficiently.

            In reality the entire idea of a blog is a corruption of English; it is a space where poor writers go to write poorly; and if someone is giving advice on English; they should not give bad advice for perspective writers.

            The idea is learn to organize your thoughts; are you saying that a publisher won’t catch misused punctuation?

            Of course they will; will they catch misused meaning?

            I have never seen an editor that can catch misused meaning…

          • TJC  says:

            Also I am writing to you in a ramble; essay format.

            You cannot expect perfect punctuation when I am in writing mode instead of editing mode.

          • TJC  says:

            This is also why all male writers need female editors; and if I had my way; all female writers would have male editors.

            Writing is a complimentary business; it requires both men and women for a finished product; otherwise it is disorganized trash.

          • TJC  says:

            Oh and good writing; in rough-draft format, only uses commas followed by periods.

            So please stop trying to pretend like you know how to use English more efficiently than me; just understand you have less pretentious ideas; and are able to turn manuscripts into novels, not how to create good manuscripts; if you could do that you would be a writer and not an editor.

            As Stephen King said, “to write is human, to edit is divine.”

            Writers and editors need each other; but writers don’t need editors to teach them how to write; because we make the product and you sell the product.

          • TJC  says:

            Sorry for all these posts, I am certain it is hurting my Karma.

            I write fiction and am apolitical, so writing is pretty much my life.

            Writing fiction takes a certain need for good grammar because a lot of sentences need to be incomplete to match colloquial standards.

  • Michy  says:

    Perspective, complementary, principle, and I could go on and on.

    By the way, I’m a multi-published author. I make my living as a writer now, after having been an editor for years. I do both still, and get paid well for both.

    What have YOU published lately?

    The basic problem here is: You’re wrong. It really is that simple.

    I said I wouldn’t publish any more of your comments, but they are so hilarious I decided not to deprive my readership a glimpse of your outrageous ego.

    I won’t respond to you again though. As Bon Jovi says, “Have a nice day…”

    • TJC  says:

      Great I’m wrong and I’m sorry; but I write to children and do not feel the need to brag about my accomplishments.

      Is your name J.K. Rowling?

      Neither is mine; so why not just agree to disagree and realize that you could be more successful if you didn’t argue with writing efficiently and actually did it.

      I am actually finishing a book for a deadline at the moment and while I love writing for 16 hours a day; I want to finish what I am writing and go to sleep; this is why they tell me to turn off the internet while I write.

      • TJC  says:

        One last post since I have a narcissism problem,I am a man after all; I have a PhD in Child Psychology; please try not to act more qualified.

        • Buffy  says:

          PhD?

          Okay… I’ll do the math…
          Let’s say you’re a child prodigy (not seeing the evidence of that so far, but sure, I’ll go with it). Let’s say that you started college at 16 years of age. Even so, you would have to complete the curriculum in order, requiring that you complete your undergraduate degree in no less than 3 years. Now, supposing that you combined your master’s and doctoral degree plan and curriculum, you would still need to complete course work, theses, and dissertation… I estimate a minimum of three years to do so.

          You state that you are writing full-time now. Really? You’ve just completed your degree, but you are qualified and in great enough demand that you should successfully submit a book? Because of all your vast experience, no doubt.

          PhD… piled higher and deeper (as most who have them will actually admit).

          Based on your replies thus far, your reading comprehension needs some serious remedial work. If you misunderstand your potential ‘clients’ to the same degree as you choose to misunderstand me, then I suggest that you will never be licensed. But then, as a troll, your willful choice to misunderstand is to be expected.

          PhD… right… sure… we all believe you…

  • Buffy  says:

    I know both male and female writers, young and old, who are excellent writers. They construct their sentences and paragraphs correctly. It doesn’t matter whether their editors are of the opposite gender. Many of the same writers post blogs on a regular basis… blogs I consider entertaining, informative, and quite worthwhile. Those blogs also happen to be well-written and correctly constructed.

    Posts such as those issued here in this thread by TJC, however, are an affront to the English language. These posts are poorly thought out, punctuated incorrectly, lacking any semblance of spell-checking, and smack of arrogance.

    But look at me! Using more than a single period in a paragraph! Expressing an idea in more than a single sentence in a paragraph! How crude!

    Go play elsewhere, child. Or sit back quietly, and try to learn something.

    • TJC  says:

      This is too much fun. I can’t help myself. Buffy you do realize that you are not a feminist. You are prejudiced against men. Also if you think humanity does not need men you are also anti-life and this has nothing to do with pro-choice versus pro-life; life begins in childhood; not in your stomach.

      If you do not agree with me; see the criminal levels of single-parent homes.

      • TJC  says:

        And to the above post.

        This is red, green and blue.

        Should be written.

        This is red and blue and green or This red, that is green, those are blue or The fire engine is red, blue and green.

        Grammar is about more than just punctuation. Knowing how to use what is usually a noun as a descriptive word is also important.

        Specificity is important in writing to people of any age.

        If I wanted to write to adults like I do to children, I could do so; I simply expect more from you women and men.

      • Buffy  says:

        I’m pretty sure that fetuses could not withstand stomach acid. That’s probably why they hang out in the womb until they’re born. Apparently, child development was not one of the classes required for your child psychology doctorate. Interesting, that.

        Now, as I said before, your reading comprehension is in serious doubt. You’ve turned this into some sort of pro-life/pro-choice feminist taunt? Good try. Poor bait.

        As for single-parent homes? Perhaps you’re speaking from personal experience?

  • Derek Odom  says:

    I’ve never in my life seen more misused semicolons. I need popcorn because this is a great show.

    • Buffy  says:

      Pass me some popcorn, too, Derek!

      Thanks!

    • TJC  says:

      I’ve never in my life seen individuals who cannot communicate efficiently; oh wait, that’s right, I have devoted tens of thousands of hours doing so and still I am dealing with fools who can be convinced to vote for republicans or democrats.

      News flash, all politicians lie and after development nearly all adults are politicians; free will is lost in childhood, try not to grow up.

      http://www.apastyle.org/learn/faqs/use-semicolon.aspx?apaSessionKey=CB0DDDFC28B9C11F4EC5F0DF50F4B2DF

      • Michy  says:

        That link says exactly what my post says, except my post was more humorous.

        • TJC  says:

          Your post does not take into account a word known as meaning, in English.

          I’m sorry to everyone this was a, semi, unethical experiment, to prove I could make you mad about something that is completely apolitical using logic.

          I am a Child Psychologist and yes adults do annoy me because they are so opinionated; maybe just learn from this that you think illogically and sorry for the debate that the former statement will cause.

          Peace out!

          • TJC  says:

            Oh and I write romance novels under a female pseudonym, but that’s just for money.

          • Buffy  says:

            And there it is!

            And still, after all of that, you can’t punctuate your way out of a gossamer bag.

            D’oh!

      • Buffy  says:

        Amazingly, the link says exactly what Michelle Devon said. She just said it with more humor and some entertainment value! Go figure!

        By the way, the link you provided refuted your ‘correction’ about how the colors should be listed. You might want to study that, seeing as how it’s the APA style guide and all.

        As for your final troll (used as a verb in this case – thought I’d better clarify because your comprehension is so… questionable), politics is old hat. Very poor bait. You really must do better. Couldn’t you just use a straw-man argument and call me a Nazi already?

  • Derek Odom  says:

    TJC, time to give up, here. These folks know what they are talking about. They can’t fix a child’s head but they can damn sure write a blue streak past you. šŸ™‚

  • Opher  says:

    Perhaps by “child psychologist” TJC is referring to his maturity level?

    More seriously, the set of posts by TJC are a study in inefficient communication, his repeated statements about “efficient communication” notwithstanding. Communication is about the transfer of ideas from writer to reader (or speaker to listener, etc.). If intelligent, educated readers tell you your writing is barely understandable, any claim of efficient communication goes out the window.

    If one was to take seriously TJC’s final claim that this was some sort of “a, semi, unethical experiment, to prove I could make you mad about something that is completely apolitical using logic” one would have to point out that (a) that final post is itself poorly punctuated, (b) the other posters were amused, not angered, and (c) any logic was completely missing from TJC’s posts.

    In short, TJC proved the old saw that when given the choice between keeping silent and allowing people to suspect you’re stupid, or opening your mouth and removing all doubt, you should opt for the former.

    • Buffy  says:

      Have I told you lately, Opher, “I love you!”?

  • Cindy  says:

    Ditto what Buffy said, Opher. I think I love you!

    The saddest thing about TLC writing about “the English” is that he clearly doesn’t understand how it works. As someone who does write romance, I find his claims that he writes in the genre “for the money” insulting to people who do it well. Furthermore, his claim regarding a Ph.D. in child psychology is laughable as is his explanation of his “unethical” experiment. I would hope that had he considered a Ph.D. program, they would have taught him ethics.

  • Jennifer Walker  says:

    *Rolling on floor laughing, gasping for breath and clutching stomach*

    Hoo boy, TJC. You really need to stop smoking whatever it is you’re smoking.

  • Laurie D  says:

    If this person is a child psychologist, God help the poor children who go to TJC for guidance.

  • Laurie D  says:

    There is an eight-year-old boy we take care of who argues the way TJC does. Of course he uses smaller words, but it is the same illogical mentality. We usually give him a time out and a sentence to write about fifty times until the tantrum passes and the lesson sinks in.

  • Rose Field  says:

    Well, moving on to a different take on semicolons…

    Michy, I would never dispute your grammar advice, but I want to add my opinion about semicolons.

    I have a deep-seated, secret shame/fear that I don’t know anything about grammar and it holds me back from writing sometimes. It’s the product of twelve years in a small town school system which I experienced as varying from low level to intense shades of hell, followed by 2 1/2 years of college which consisted of sloth and boozing. Thankfully, even though most of my grammar education rolled right off my back, the teaching methods of those days did manage to force enough to stick that I can get by in polite society.

    Where I differ with your opinion is in regard to speaking in semicolons. I do. I think I do. I use them when I write because they seem so natural to me. I plead innocent to the charge of using them in an attempt to impress anyone. I hope I use them properly, but I’m seldom sure of anything I do.

    Now, granted, if I wrote fiction dialog, I probably wouldn’t use them, but in a non-fiction article they seem quite appropriate and reflect how I’d say the material out loud.

    Please say I can continue my relationship with my friend, the semicolon???

    • Michy  says:

      Sure you can! As long as you use them correctly. Just because I don’t speak in semicolons doesn’t mean you can’t when you find your voice for nonfiction. I would never really use them dialogue… I guess I could think where it might work, but I just don’t do it.

      As for nonfiction, though, I do use semicolons in nonfiction. Just be sure when you use them that there is either a list with commas or two independent clauses on either side of the semicolon. That’s where most people make a mistake, is the two independent clauses thing. If one of the clauses is dependent (that is, if it’s not a complete sentence by itself), then it should be a comma, not a semicolon.

      I have no issues with semicolons at all… my issue is with those who use them too frequently and to frequently wrongly use them.

  • Thomas Sisson  says:

    Just lurking–not really.

    Are semicolons overused? Yes. Are they often poorly used? Yes.

    Are people overly critical of semicolons? Yes. Should they be properly used more frequently? Sometimes.

    Can semicolons be replaced with period? Usually. Are there other ways to punctuate? Of course.

    Sometimes semicolons can be replaced with colons or dashes–dashes are usually typed with two hyphens that word processing programs replace with the dash that is longer than a hyphen.

    While dashes are used to connect related thoughts that are related to subject at hand, parentheses are used for further explanation or unrelated text that may only loosely connect to the topic at hand.

    Pick up a children’s book and look at the paragraphs. These books contain short paragraphs because they contain fewer words, fewer thoughts or ideas, and shorter words.

    Additionally, writers have different styles. They can use unique styles because they are good writers; they are good writers because they write well; they write well because they learned how to properly use spelling, grammar and punctuation.

    Rant if you must, but I have a favorite saying. I am not a religious man; however, this applies often in life.

    He without sin may cast the first stone.

    • Michy  says:

      There was no ranting. This was a humorous piece intended to give a little information about how to use a semicolon properly, and hopefully to make someone laugh while doing it.

Leave a reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>