I have a confession to make: I live in fear of the semicolon. As phobias go, I know it could be worse. I could have an aversion to, say, spiders, or maybe conference calls or my BlackBerry. Which would really be unfortunate, since I work in marketing. Anyway. I’m tired of worrying about run-on sentences. And choppy prose. And whether or not the proofreading team is making fun of me behind my back. Can you help me?
My dear Subject,
I pray that I will not perturb you further when I admit that the semicolon is my favorite punctuation mark. Yes, even the Grammar Queen plays favorites—but how can I not, when considering such an elegant and subtle tool? But fear no more; you’ve already made the first and most important step, admitting that you have a problem. And soon you too could be reclining among the topiary in your east garden; sipping a nice Chateau Lafite; and admiring the semicolon mastery of such luminaries as Henry James, E.M. Forster, and (may I confess an unexpected pleasure?) David Foster Wallace.
But let us first lay out the rules. Semicolons have three main functions:
Take these rules to heart, and you’ll be well equipped to try out your new skill. If nerves linger, you might practice first on supportive friends and household staff before bravely employing the occasional semicolon in business correspondence. I have the utmost faith that it will enrich both your writing and your career.
The Grammar Queen