Stefanie Dell'Aringa

Freelance Writer

Category: Grammar Rantings

Writing Club Wrestle: Semi-Colon vs. Comma

I went to a writing club at a local library two nights ago. I thought it’d be fun for my daughters. One has a 16,000 page manuscript I don’t have time to edit; the other is working on a graphic novel. I listened to a soft spoken mother read aloud her essay on love. It’s a submission for a contest offered by Real Simple magazine. Next was an older gentleman who shared his piece about an unhappy state employee who has to administer tests to “odious high school students.” Both essays were very enjoyable.

When I opened my mouth to help the older gentleman with a run-on sentence by correcting it with a semi-colon, I was shocked at his response.  He originally had placed a semi-colon in the exact spot I suggested, but had taken it out because he was afraid of someone else in the class who previously had suggested he was overusing this punctuation.

On closer review, this gentleman had overused the semi-colon. But when the person who had accused him of overuse began to speak about its proper use, that’s when I realized how many people are unsure of its proper use. So here it is in a nutshell:

Use a semi-colon when you have two independent clauses that are of a related thought. These clauses are not joined by conjunctions (and, but, or, for, nor, yet, so). Example:

She can’t stop shaking; she feels she’s going to die.

-or-

Sarah looked in the driveway; she saw the car below.

This man had misunderstood semi-colon usage; he felt it would provide a more dramatic pause. Nope. The comma is and always will be there for dramatic pause. The semi-colon is a linker of clauses; it’s not intended for pausing at all.

Another use for a semi-colon is for listing things set off by commas in a series. Example:

Tonight’s speakers include: Jo Jo Dipstick, comedian; Rita Whatshername, introvert; and Laura Lovable, flirt.

See? No pauses there.

What not to do with a semi-colon:

Don’t link an independent clause with a dependent clause with a semi-colon. Example:

When he came into the room; blood was all over the floor. (incorrect)

Instead, put a comma there. Yes, you want a dramatic pause here: When he came into the room, blood was all over the floor. (correct)

I think the reason semi-colons are so improperly used is because nobody seems to recognize the simple rules that apply to them. Hopefully, this has helped you to know a semi-colon’s true purpose in a sentence.

 

Ouch! I Think I Just Split My Infinitive

It’s funny that I notice so many split infinitives. If you’re old school, this is considered incorrect, but there are certain instances where it just seems to sound right. Perhaps it’s because we do it so often in conversation that it has become a natural – though not exactly grammatically correct in my opinion – way of speaking. Most people have no idea what a split infinitive is, so I’ll briefly explain by supplying a well-known example: “to boldly go where no man has gone before.” This, as you probably recall, is the quote from the opening of Star Trek, spoken by Captain James T. Kirk. The verb here is “to go” but it has been split by the adverb, “boldly.”

So, if I was to give you an analogy, I’d say that two parents who are trying to cuddle together are split apart by their whining toddler. That “boldly” has some bold notions, doesn’t he? He’s the spoiled toddler who wants to separate two verbs who are supposed to stay linked. The grammatically correct way to phrase this is “to go boldly where no man has gone before.”

But, modern day dictionaries state that it’s okay to split the infinitive, and after all, it’s Star Trek blasphemy to try to change it anyway. In certain circles, there are those who still wish to hold true to the old rules of grammar. I guess I would classify myself as an old school grammarian.

Please, if you’re a Trekkie, don’t send me hate mail for pointing out this grammatical error!

 

 

 

Menus

Lately, I’ve been cursing the fact that I possess what others have called a “sharp eye” or “eagle eye,” (which is why I call my site Eagle Eye Writer). It’s like I can spot a typo from a continent away, and it often gets in the way of having fun. Like when I go to a restaurant, I sit down and try to decide what to order, but I inevitably end up proofreading the menu. That’s right. Talk about ridiculous. I don’t mean to do this; it just happens.

I think menus in general offer the most mistakes I’ve ever seen in print. It’s as if the written word means nothing to restaurant owners. They probably only make sure that their prices are correct. So – here is my latest rant as far as menus go. It’s when there is a blatant disregard for the difference between plurals and possessives.

I was minding my own business reading the menu when it hit me like a pie in the face (although I wasn’t interested in ordering pie that night). I read the heading: “Pizza’s.” It’s hard for me to even type it wrong because I absolutely loathe it. Doesn’t anybody notice this inappropriate placement of an apostrophe? Doesn’t anybody care? Yeah, my husband would call me a Grammar Nazi or Grammar Geek because I do care. Maybe I’m the only one. But help me out here and tell me if this bothers you, too.  AH!

I guess I wouldn’t care so much if I didn’t have to see it so much. We don’t even eat out that frequently, but I swear this problem occurs with nearly every menu I read. This common mistake makes me lose my appetite!

Now, just to set the record straight: Plural = Pizzas. Ah. Correct. Possessive = Pizza’s, but the pizza does not own anything, so this form of the word does not belong on the menu. In fact, I can’t really think of a place where it should be used, unless you’re writing fiction and the main character’s name is Pizza, and you’re saying something like “Pizza’s on the phone” (as in Pizza is on the phone) – or – “It was Pizza’s turn to do the dishes.” (as in the possessive form of pizza that shows that the turn belongs to Pizza).  But I doubt anybody would be naming their character “Pizza” so you’ll probably never see a possessive form of pizza unless you frequent a lot of Chicago pizzerias and see it on the menu that way. Maybe I should just stop eating out. 🙁

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