AEM Academy

Semicolon Sentences

Semicolon + conjunctive adverb sentences

In essence, the semicolon functions like a period. However, the semicolon is used instead of a period to create a balanced sentence: the second half of the sentence complements the first half.

"The semi-colon signals a more complicated relationship between independent clauses than that signaled by coordinating conjunctions (SOYBAN: so, or, yet, but, and, nor). Typically, the second clause expands on the first clause or provides clarifying details, contrasts with the first clause, or describes a consequence." (Prof. Davis)

Most semi-colon sentences follow a simple formula:

IC; CA, IC.

Independent clause + semicolon + conjunctive adverb + comma + independent clause.

  • “We cannot control all that happens to us; however, we can choose to be in control of our responses.” (Lionel Kendrick, Mormon leader)
  • “The art of healing comes from nature, not from the physician; therefore, the physician must start from nature, with an open mind.” (Paracelsus)

Two important points to remember with semi-colon sentences:

  1. BOTH SIDES of the semi-colon MUST BE independent clauses. Each half of the semi-colon sentence must be a sentence on its own.
  2. The conjunctive adverb is followed by a comma.


Conjunctive adverbs and phrases

Conclusion

  • …; therefore,...
  • ...; thus,...

Clarification

  • ...; in fact,...
  • ...; to clarify, ...

Comparison

  • …; in comparison, …
  • …; likewise,…
  • …; similarly,…

Contrast

  • ...; conversely,...
  • …; however,...

…; in contrast, ….

  • ...; instead,...
  • ...; on the other hand,...

…; meanwhile, ...

  • ...; otherwise,...

Emphasis

…; besides, …

  • …; notably,…

Regardless

  • ...; despite that,...
  • ...; in spite of that,...
  • ...; nevertheless,...
  • ...; nonetheless,...
  • …; regardless,...

Result

  • ...; as a result,...
  • ...; consequently,...

Sequence

  • …; additionally, …
  • ...; as well,...
  • …; eventually,...
  • ...; finally,...
  • ...; furthermore,...
  • ...; in addition,...
  • ...; meanwhile,...
  • ...; moreover,...
  • ...; next,...
  • ...; subsequently,...

“Then” is a conjunctive adverb.

One of the most common mistakes involves using “then” like a coordinating conjunction (SOYBAN: so, or, yet, but, and, nor):

  • We finished X, then we finished Y.

This is a run-on sentence. You can’t use “then” to join together two independent clauses. In the middle of a sentence, use “and then” or a semi-colon:

  • Solution #1: We finished X and then we finished Y.
  • Solution #2: We finished X; then, we finished Y.

Run-on sentences (ROS) and sentence fragments (SF) due to mixing up coordinating/subordinating conjunctions with conjunctive adverbs

One of the most common reasons for run-on sentences and sentence fragments is mixing up conjunctive adverbs with coordinating or subordinating conjunctions. Remember:

  1. Coordinating conjunctions join together two independent clauses. Coordinating conjunctions are NOT followed by a comma.
  2. Subordinating conjunctions begin subordinate clauses, which are dependent clauses that need an independent clause to make sense. Subordinating conjunctions are NOT followed by a comma.
  3. Conjunctive adverbs begin independent clauses; you can’t use them to join together independent clauses without using either a period or a semi-colon. Conjunctive adverbs ARE followed by a comma.


3 kinds of conjunctions

1. Coordinating conjunctions

Coordinating conjunctions join independent clauses.

  • I need to do X and I need to do Y.
  • I’ve made a lot of progress on the project but it’s not done yet.

2. Subordinating conjunctions

Subordinating conjunctions begin subordinate clauses.

  • While I need to study for the test, I also need to go to work tonight.
  • I’ve made a lot of progress on the project although it’s not done yet.

3. Conjunctive adverbs

Conjunctive adverbs begin an independent clause either after a period or a semi-colon.

  • I need to do X; also, I need to do Y.
  • I’ve made a lot of progress on the project; however, it’s not done yet.


If you use a subordinating conjunction instead of a conjunctive adverb, you end up with a sentence fragment:

Subordinate clause beginning with a subordinating conjunction:

  • Because it’s too big.

“Because it’s too big.” is a sentence fragment (SF). You either need to add an independent clause or you can replace “because” with “however,” which is a conjunctive adverb:

  • However, it’s too big.


If you use a conjunctive adverb instead of a coordinating/subordinating conjunction, you end up with a run-on sentence:

1. We went out to a new pizza restaurant the other day unfortunately it wasn’t very good.

2. We didn’t follow the instructions as a result the recipe didn’t work out.

Solution: Use a coordinating or subordinating conjunction instead:

1. We went out to a new pizza restaurant the other day but it wasn’t very good.

We went out to a new pizza restaurant the other day although it wasn’t very good.

2. We didn’t follow the instructions so the recipe didn’t work out.


Semi-colon sentences with no conjunctive adverb

Independent clauses can also be joined by a semicolon and not followed by a conjunctive adverb. This is more of a stylistic choice to use a semicolon instead of a period to achieve a sense of balance. The semicolon is also being used instead of a coordinating conjunction (SOYBAN: so, or, yet, but, and, nor).

  • "He was 62, and perilously close to being broke; I was 25, had just started working for a London newspaper, and had my first regular salary."
  • "My father, a zoologist, had no more money than his modest salary from an English university; Mother taught at the local girls' school."
  • "Mother didn't assume I would go to Cambridge or Oxford; she didn't assume I would go to university at all, despite indications to the contrary."

Source: These three examples are from The Teacher by James Wood.

Let's look at each of these in detail.

Asymmetrical balance

1. "He was 62, and perilously close to being broke; I was 25, had just started working for a London newspaper, and had my first regular salary."

  • Notice the balance between the two clauses: a) the contrast in age; b) the contrast in financial situation.
  • The semicolon is being used instead of "and." How many times does "and" already appear in the sentence? Read the sentence out loud a) the way it is and b) using "and" instead of the semicolon. Which sounds better?

Symmetrical balance is also very nice but is considered a simpler form of art than asymmetrical balance. If the sentence were more symmetrically balanced, this is how it might appear:

  • "He was 62, nearly retired, and perilously close to being broke; I was 25, had just started working for a London newspaper, and had my first regular salary."

2. "My father, a zoologist, had no more money than his modest salary from an English university; Mother taught at the local girls' school."

  • Notice the asymmetrical balance: a) the long first clause that describes the father's job and its modest university salary; b) the short second clause.
  • The semicolon is being used instead of "and." Using "and" in this situation instead of the semicolon sounds barbaric.

3. "Mother didn't assume I would go to Cambridge or Oxford; she didn't assume I would go to university at all, despite indications to the contrary."

  • Notice the balance in grammatical structure to emphasize Mother's low expectations.
  • The semicolon is being used instead of "nor." The sentence could read: "Mother didn't assume I would go to Cambridge or Oxford nor did she assume I would go to university at all, despite indications to the contrary." Which one sounds better?

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