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Punctuation and Professionalism: Semicolon Substitution

Purely on the level of mechanics, a semicolon equals a period, equals a coordinating conjunction plus a comma.

For a short history of semicolons:


Has Modern Life Killed the Semicolon? (Slate, 2008)

For a longer history of semicolons:


Semicolon: Past, Present and Future by Cecila Watson (2019)

Here are some additional pieces of advice on punctuation substitution. Post your favorite in Comments.

1. “Overuse of any punctuation mark tells us something about ourselves, in the same way overuse of any object does.”

—Philip Cowell, “What Overusing Exclamation Marks Says About You” (2017)

2. “I’ve noted before the risks of missteps, confusion or awkwardness in the use of dashes. Even if the dashes are correct and the syntax intact, we should avoid overdoing the device. It can seem like a tic; worse yet, it can indicate a profusion of overstuffed and loosely constructed sentences, bulging with parenthetical additions and asides.”

—Philip Corbett, “Dashes Everywhere” (2011)

3. “Did 19th- and early 20th-century writers sprinkle semicolons without any sense of propriety or limits? Or were there rules for semicolons that are obscure to us now? After looking at passages from T.S. Eliot, Henry James, George Eliot and Jane Austen, Mr. Nunberg at last discovered the old law of the semicolon: A semicolon that wants to dominate another semicolon in the same sentence must wait for the end of the sentence; and then it can act like a colon, trumping the rest; the last semicolon gets the last laugh.

—Sarah Boxer, “If Not Strong, At Least Tricky: The Middleweight of Punctuation Politics” (1999)

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