Because I’m tired of seeing so many of the following mistakes in authors’ work, I’ve decided to make a list of the most common ones to help you, the reader, keep from following the same path.
#10: The misuse of the semicolon. A semicolon is used to connect two independent clauses. In other words, it takes two complete sentences and puts them together. If one or both of the sentences in your semicolon clause is a fragment (an incomplete sentence) then your semicolon doesn’t belong there. Examples follow, starting with an acceptable use of the semicolon, and moving on to unacceptable.
She took out her lock picks and used them to get the door open; she had no other choice.
This sentence is correct because both clauses in it can stand alone. In other words, if you separated them both with periods, then it would still be grammatically correct.
She took out her lock picks and used them to get the door open; breathing heavily and quietly.
This sentence cannot use a semicolon because “breathing heavily and quietly” can’t work on its own as a sentence. Therefore it is a dependent clause. If you did want to connect these two clauses, a comma would work in place of the semicolon.
#9: Using commas where periods should be. Contrary to popular belief, commas aren’t just periods with adorable little tails. The two punctuation marks have very different uses. Commas, as we know, indicate a pause in the sentence, usually where a breath would be taken if someone were to say it out loud. They can also be used to interject some other bit of narration, as I did in the previous sentence: “Commas, as we know, indicate…” Then there are periods. Periods come at the end of a complete sentence. Look at me. I’m using periods left and right. The problem is that sometimes people will use a comma instead of a period, connecting two completely separate sentences that shouldn’t be connected. Take my own writing for example. It’s not uncommon to see people connecting things like, “Look at me,” and “I’m using periods left and right,” thereby making them into, “Look at me, I’m using periods left and right.” As we already discussed, if you’re going to connect two sentences like these puppies right here, you’re going to need a semicolon. However, these sentences don’t really need to be connected at all, as you saw. Look what I did there! I used a comma to add on my little remark, “as you saw,” which cannot exist alone because it is a dependent clause. That is the proper use of a comma, as are the following:
“I can’t do it,” she said. Commas are often used in quotes like this, or even like this: “I can’t do it,” she said. “It’s too hard.” Note how a period is still used after “she said” because that is the end of one sentence, and her next spoken words form a new sentence. Two commas can be used, though, if you have a scenario like this one: “I can’t do it,” she said, “but you can try.”
You can either help me out here, or we’ll all die. That one works because commas often come before conjunctions -and, but, or, yet, however – but this wouldn’t work: I like to use commas instead of periods, you should never be like me.
I know I promised I’d talk about Coming of Age today, but that can wait until we complete the list. It’s just more important. Next time we’ll talk about the difference between “it’s” and “its,” “to” and “too,” and much, much more.
Keep on writing!
Word of the Day: Psychosis (n) – a mental disorder characterized by symptoms, such as delusions or hallucinations, that indicate impaired contact with reality.