Copy Editor’s Corner | The mysterious semicolon

Copy Editor’s Corner | The mysterious semicolon

The dreaded semicolon. This little guy can really throw people for a loop. Maybe it’s the look of it – it’s not quite a comma, not quite a colon. What is this punctuation symbol, and why can’t we just use a common or a period instead?

The semicolon comes to the rescue when a comma just won’t do the trick. It helps avoid confusion in a long list:

We’re proud to recognize our vice president of operations, Sam Smith of Chicago; customer service representatives Jim Johnson of Paris, Texas, Ann Anderson of Seattle, and Ben Brown of San Francisco; and CFO Molly Miller of Atlanta.

And it serves as a less abrupt form of separation than a period:

I’m excited for my vacation; I leave tomorrow.

Alison Dotson