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Is it OK to use a semi-colon?

12 Jan 2017

Word on the street is that the semi-colon is dead. Here’s my professional advice.

I’ve seen a few forum posts about semi-colons recently; and an author asked a question that makes me think there is some new punctuation advice floating about. It appears that fiction writers are being told that semi-colons are unfashionable and no longer needed. I have not managed to find the source of this advice, however, and I would be interested to hear about it if anyone knows.

No-one, apart from that lone writer, has asked for my opinion, but it's not often that I'm in a position to comment on a matter of what's fashionable and what's not, and I'm damned if I'm going to miss this opportunity. So here is an official statement from Clare Law Editorial about semi-colon use in fiction:

If your style is formal and dignified and your ideas complex, then to avoid semi-colons will make your writing life difficult. If, however, you aspire to a more spare and simple style, then there is an argument for hunting down semi-colons and re-writing the sentences in which they are used. The reason is this: semi-colons are, in general, used in longer sentences that deal with layered ideas and nested lists. Their presence is a warning of simplicity failure that is easy to hunt down using ‘find’.

The excellent Emma Darwin has dealt with this matter far more eloquently than I ever could, so you should read her post , too.