la Ketch

my life story

Friday, November 18, 2005

la Ketch Confessional

I am 31 years old and I don't know how to use a semicolon.

If someone can explain the use of a semicolon to me in a way that I can understand well enough to actually employ it in a sentence correctly, I will give them a dollar*. I've been trying to use the semicolon on this blog and now I realize, I've been using it all wrong. If you are connecting two complete sentences with the thing, then why would you not just put a period or a conjunction? That's my question I guess. What is the special circumstance where the conjunction or the period will just not do?

*I have a feeling that the Great Rambini is going to be the first to pipe in on this one but that's only because FW doesn't comment. Also, I'm not entirely certain if FW reads this blog. If FW did read this blog and did comment and did explain the use of a semicolon to me in way that I was able to understand well enough to employ it in a sentence correctly, I would not give him a dollar; I would take one dollar off the $10 he already owes me.

(Did I do it?)


At 11:18 AM, Blogger Adam said...

They are two complete sentences that relate to each other. The second sentence often explains or clarifies the first. Any good?

At 11:24 AM, Blogger la Ketch said...

well yes, it's helpful but with that explanation, I still feel trepidacious about using it. I mean it's so subjective, isn't it? I think i need an example, a good example of when a semicolon would truly be the best way to link two sentences vs. putting a period between them or a conjunction, like i can look at the sentence and say, "Ahhhh, that's better." Do you know what I mean? Can you help me out here?

At 11:54 AM, Blogger Brikin Blog said...

FW is unlikely to post a comment without significant enticement; you should offer him a free iPod.

Go ahead and weigh in, Rambini; what did I do wrong?

At 12:42 PM, Blogger adrien-alice said...

I've been a fan of the semi-colon since I first understood the core of its power; it helps me get away from my fiendish reliance on dashes.

I think it's a diction issue. I like to write in discrete blurbs of thought and juxtapose them. I _could_ work on linking conjunctions, but I don't like the sound as much.

So if you're not semicolon inclined, don't let anyone make you feel bad.

At 12:50 PM, Blogger la Ketch said...

You're right Bog Face. I don't know what I was thinking. I don't think Rambini is up yet.

Adrienne-Alice you are getting incredibly warm here. The lightbulb above my head is flickering. Can you tell me though, why this isn't the same?

I've been a fan of the semi-colon since I first understood the core of its power. It helps me get away from my fiendish reliance on dashes.

Is it truly that subtle of a thing that a whole punctuation mark has been dedicated to allowing us to do this? If it is that subtle, just tell me. I'll be relieved to finally know the truth.

At 1:42 PM, Blogger Sean Nelson said...

I'm up; I wake up every day before the sun rises to sprint around greenlake!

Now do you understand?

The idea, as I understand it is that the semi-colon is like a period with an asterisk or a little arrow inside. It says, "that, but also this!"

A colon just means "note what follows."

Ain't no grammarian.

-The Great Rambini

At 1:53 PM, Blogger Adam said...

correct me if I'm wrong but the semicolon is like a period and the dash is like an exclamation point--It depends how excited you are or how subtle you want to be.

At 2:13 PM, Blogger la Ketch said...

Good morning Rambini. So nice of you to join us, FINALLY. I have to say that it is the Rambini's explanation that truly does it for me. It's the image of the little arrow pointing to the next sentence that gets my mind around it. The rest of you paved the way so beautifully though. I feel that I should give you a dollar as well. Please e-mail me your mailing address at and I will mail you your dollar along with a la Ketch t-shirt. I'm kidding about the t-shirt. Thank you all!

At 3:23 PM, Blogger pete. said...

Am I too late? (Let me defend myself in advance: I stink at grammar. My teachers never penalized me for my errors so I never tried to correct them.) I know you're asking about a specific use of the semicolon, but there is another, important, handy use: In lists in which the listed objects themselves contain commas.
"Keep these dates open: January 20, 2006; March 27, 2009; April 4, 1912. On those dates you will be traveling to Springfield, Jordan; Tolland, Connecticut; and Gatlinburg, Syria." Damn. Now I wonder about using "and" in that sentence. Ugh. Grammar sucks. That's why poetry is easier.

At 3:25 PM, Blogger la Ketch said...

Pete! Great to hear from you. Unfortunately, you have only confused me further and now you owe me a dollar... xo.

At 3:30 PM, Blogger adrien-alice said...


I've been collecting all the sentences with semi-colons I wrote today in the course of my job. And none of them are that wacky series rule.

If I email them, then could I get the t-shirt?

At 12:22 PM, Blogger la Ketch said...

fw wrote me an e-mail because my blog doesn't allow anonymous comments. This is what he writes:

andrew sullivan on his blog writes that when he was a
reporter at the new republic, michael kinsley (editor
of TNR at the time) had a single key on his computer
that he would press before even reading an article
that would delete all semicolons, replace them with a
period, and initial cap the next word. andrew, who's
british, says this is a distinctly american bias
against the semicolon. i agree that semicolons should
generally be avoided, but i use them from time to time
when it makes something sound cool. if i were to
copyedit the replies on your blog, i would have
changed all the examples of semicolon usage to a
period and initial cap. except pete's example of
using semicolons to replace serial commas when the
parts of the series themselves contain commas (though
i would suggest rephrasing to avoid that whenever
possible, as it looks awkward).

I told him that for that, he no longer owes me $10. Thanks fw!

At 7:30 PM, Blogger langus said...

Dude, what the hell is a conjunction?

Please keep in mind where I graduated. Thank you.

At 7:46 PM, Blogger john said...

I'm late to the party.

I don't know how to use a semicolon. But I have noticed, having spent a lot of time on MS Word lately, that the spelling/grammar check often suggests it. I tend to take Word up on that offer because I like to see it there on the screen. Then I wonder what it's for. The properness of it all is for my editor to decide. I say that unless you're an editor, just pretend you know; what; you're doing;!. ;.


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