Semicolons and Commas, Oh My.

I love semicolons because I understand them. Commas, on the other hand,* I don’t get. I am often never sure whether one is needed or not. While I should probably put them in when unsure,** I tend to do the opposite***. Semicolons are cool; commas are just fussy. So, of course, I loved this New York Times article, “Celebrating the Semicolon in a Most Unlikely Location” from a few days back. And, just to make me squirm, here’s the correction added to the article after it was published:

Correction: February 19, 2008
An article in some editions on Monday about a New York City Transit employee’s deft use of the semicolon in a public service placard was less deft in its punctuation of the title of a book by Lynne Truss, who called the placard a “lovely example” of proper punctuation. The title of the book is “Eats, Shoots & Leaves” — not “Eats Shoots & Leaves.” (The subtitle of Ms. Truss’s book is “The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation.”)

*Is that one correct? Probably not.

**Put it in against my instincts.

***But writing about it in this post made me self-conscious so in they go.


Filed under Writing

3 responses to “Semicolons and Commas, Oh My.

  1. Clare

    That’s because many commas ARE arbitrary, Monica. Both commas that you mark are correct, and in this case both are needed to set off clauses, but many an argument is had between an editor and a writer about how many and where they go. The books I edit (scholarly non-fiction) are easier in a sense because they follow guidelines, but with fiction it gets really foggy. If the author doesn’t want a comma (or capitals, or apostrophes to show possession, etc.), they have that prerogative.

    I was once at an editing course where the instructor asked us to pick our favourite punctuation mark. Unsurprisingly it was the semicolon for many.


  2. I love semicolons. Heck, I love colons. I do not love commas.
    My eighth grade teacher, a nun of the Sisters of the Presentation (Sister Mary Laurence? I cannot remember her name) gave me my comma mantra:

    “When in doubt, leave it out.”


  3. Your commas are perfect, except one is missing after the article headline, which is an apposition to “this article.”


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