Semicolons are such wonderful things. Seriously, if it weren’t totally off the wall to have a favorite punctuation mark, I’d say the semicolon is my favorite of them all. Which they are. And I’m saying it. Semicolons are my favorite punctuation mark (what’s yours!?). In fact, I love them so much that I have a tendency to overuse them, which isn’t all that uncommon. If you’re not quite sure what a semicolon does, it can be easy to overuse them, and use them incorrectly.

Semicolons (;) simply join two complete sentences that are somehow related. They don’t join a complete sentence to a fragment; the sentence that follows should be a complete sentence that can stand on its own. (A bit of a level up moment for you: the second sentence may start with a transition word, typically a conjunctive adverb, and still be considered ‘complete’ and therefore grammatically correct). As far as ‘related’ goes, the topic of the two sentences should be similar in nature, rather than two totally unrelated sentences.

The word that begins the sentence after the semicolon does not get capitalized unless it’s a proper noun.

For example:

Planning for the new term was a time-consuming task; I was up all night preparing lessons.

Pepper them in your writing lightly! They can be great tools, and are sometimes necessary, but overusing them can sound ignorant or pretentious. You don’t want either of those.

You might also see semicolons in lists, which I’ll touch on next week! They’ve got an important job there too, but I don’t want to overload your brain on semicolons!

A play on the misquoted phrase “for all intents and purposes”, Intensive Purposes tackles one grammar rule or English language tip — from proper punctuation to misused phrases — in an easy-to-understand mini-lesson.