On Words is designed to help build or renew your grammar skills. This month we look at run-on sentences, overuse of passive voice, usage of semi-colons and more ‘confusables’ – words often mistaken for each other.
With educated people, I suppose, punctuation is a matter of rule; with me it is a matter of feeling. But I must say I have a great respect for the semi-colon; it’s a useful little chap.
– Abraham Lincoln
You may disagree with Abraham Lincoln, but there are instances where semi-colons serve a good purpose. The University of Toronto writing department advises using a semicolon to join independent clauses without a coordinating conjunction (and, or, nor, but, so, yet, for), and gives this example: “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Had there been a coordinating conjunction like ‘and’, you would use a comma instead, as in “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Tip: You can use a semi-colon if the two clauses in a sentence can stand as sentences on their own, as in the first example above.
Exception: Semi-colons can also be used occasionally as ‘supercommas’ between items in a complicated list, as in, “I have a three-day layover in Amsterdam; another stop in Geneva; and a third stop in Frankfurt.”
Avoiding run-on sentences
It’s easy to get carried away and try to pack too much information into one sentence. I know, because I’ve done it. Sentences that become bloated by going off in too many directions and containing too many words are a reader turn-off.
Tip: Ensure each sentence expresses only one central idea. Read More
Lemony Snicket, in The Wide Window, on words:
“Grammar is the greatest joy in life, don’t you find?”
Fall is a great time of renewal, as F. Scott Fitzgerald observed: “Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.” It’s also a good time to renew or build your grammar skills. This month we look at ellipses, hyphenated words and ‘confusables’ – words often mistaken for each other:
Using the Ellipsis …
Those three dots you often see within a sentence, ‘ …’, form an ellipsis, commonly used to indicate omitted words. It’s Latin, with Greek origins meaning to fall short, leave out. It’s like the print equivalent for those times when someone recounts a conversation to you with “blah, blah, blah” or “yadda, yadda, yadda” to indicate that extraneous or predictable words have been omitted. Ellipses are particularly useful for shortening a long quotation. Always put a space before and after the dots. Note also there are two alternate uses, including: