When chatting with a good friend this week we somehow found ourselves discussing the fascinating issues concerning the correct use of grammar, and the difficulties faced by parents when trying to teach their children the ‘rules’. But unfortunately for us parents, there are several sets of rules which seem to vary depending on your age and the context in which you’re using the English language. And if you speak to more than one expert on the subject I can almost guarantee you’ll end up confused.
Looking at the paragraph you’ve just read, there are a couple of common grammar elements that people are never quite sure of because of the rudimentary grammar lessons they were taught when they first started writing. The elements I’m referring to concern starting a sentence with the word ‘And’ or ‘But’. As children, most adults were taught that this is totally unacceptable, and this is because sometimes this can lead to disjointed paragraphs or sentences that don’t quite link together. However, if used with care it can in fact be grammatically correct to begin a sentence with ‘And’ or ‘But’.
Another bone of contention when it comes to grammar is the use of punctuation marks. If used properly, these dots and squiggles on the page can make a piece of written text read beautifully, but if used inappropriately they can turn a sensible piece of writing into a piece of nonsense. One such mark is the semicolon, a fascinating beast, and one which I will elaborate on here today; the comma will need a blog post all of its own!
So, a semi colon (;) is a middle ground between a comma and a full stop, or period (US). It is used to join two complete sentences that are closely related. These two sentences could be separated by a full stop, and they could also be separated with a comma and a conjunction such as ‘and’ or ‘but’. However, in order to demonstrate a closer relationship between the two phrases the semicolon is deemed more appropriate. If you feel inclined to use a semicolon but you’re not quite sure if it’s right, always ask these three questions:
1. Are there two full sentences either side of the semicolon?
2. If I placed a full stop there instead, does this sound better?
3. If I placed a comma and a conjunction there instead, does this sound better?
Hopefully, after a while, their use and place in your sentences will become second nature and you’ll feel confident to write and have your writing read by others.