Submitted by sigurd on October 15, 2011

Semicolon between sentences joined by a coordinating conjunction

Is separating two coordinating-conjunction-linked sentences, the former having a comma(s), with a semicolon instead of a comma logically justified?

In GrammarBook.com’s Semicolons category, Rule 5. reads:

Use the semicolon between two sentences joined by a coordinating conjunction when one or more commas appear in the first sentence.

Examples: When I finish here, I will be glad to help you; and that is a promise I will keep.

If she can, she will attempt that feat; and if her husband is able, he will be there to see her.

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@WW after an intial spike 1800-1820, it just wanders along till 2000 where it suddenly rises back to the initial levels. Works in Firefox

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@jayles - On Ngram, for 'for_CONJ' I'm getting 'no valid Ngrams to plot', although it's working for 'for_ADP' OK.

From what I can see poking round in dictionaries, it tends to be found more in literary than academic work. But that's only a hunch, for I don't have any real evidence.

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Hello learned ones.It is always nice to come here to see that there are people keeping grammar and English alive.And may I say,I can't wait to start using semicolons again:I can't wait to start using semicolons again. Is that at all correct? In any case, when you have been out surfing the inter-webs for a long time,it's just nice to come here and see nice,good,crispy,clean English. Thank you,Mona

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@jayles,

The only significant problem that I can think of would be understanding. If it can be explained well and the students understand it, then, yes, teaching would be very helpful. But maybe it has to be learned regardless for IELTS. Second, it is a great rhetorical replacement for "because". In my opinion, "for" used this way is very pleasing to both the tongue and the ear.

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@WW "for_CONJ_" on Ngram shows a marked resurgence over the past decade, which threw me. However, I have just realized this might be skewed by republication of old books.
The real reason for my asking was I was asked whether it would be a good idea to include "for" as a conjunction in academic writing (ie IELTS). ??
[I often ban sts from using "and/but/so/because/however/on the other hand" to force practicing alternatives like "as/since/although/in case/in sofar as..." ].

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@jayles: I don't think deprecated, necessarily, just seen as a bit old-fashioned.

Oxford Online calls it 'literary' and OALD and Cambridge (learners' dictionaries)
call it old-fashioned or literary.

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Perhaps I could raise the matter of "for" as a conjunction.
"Wow I am glad and happy too; for I was late for this discussion."
Or is "for" as a conjunction now deprecated.

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WOW, I am glad and happy too;that I was late for this discussion. Full stop happy.

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never mind

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ur retarded it says so in an english textbook

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"People take grammar too seriously." um, isn't that kind of the point here? ;)

WW: I stand corrected. Both of your examples make sense (and I would read them that way. Thanks for the semicolons; they help readability). Your last sentence is something I don't think many have learned. I was always taught to read something out loud (or at least 'aloud in my head') to determine it's syntactical integrity. However, I believe one must first know the rules and how to apply them in order for this strategy to work. Plenty of people write things how they think it should sound, but lack the foundation of any sense of proper English or any sort of rules. Thus we get offenses such as are apparent all over the internet as well as the many infiltrating public and business publications (at least in America).

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GrammarBook.com's rule is supported by several expert websites, for example: Prof Paul Brians at Common Errors; and writing support websites at Towson University, Wisconsin University and the University of New South Wales in Australia, all of whom give examples of semicolons being used with coordinating conjunctions.

I think this is just another example of a so-called rule being used to override a general principle. It's a case of not seeing the wood for the trees. But spouting rules is so much easier than trying to understand why we do something.

Take the first sentence:

When I finish here, I will be glad to help you; and that is a promise I will keep.

You could of course start with a new sentence after 'you'. But the second part is closely related to the first, so keeping it in one sentence is justified. But in doing so we need a longer pause than a simple comma, to differentiate it from the first part, hence the semicolon. And the second example:

If she can, she will attempt that feat; and if her husband is able, he will be there to see her.

Here we have two complete conditional sentences, and again they are closely related, so the 'and' is appropriate. But again we need a longer pause than the internal commas in each of the conditionals, so again the semicolon is not only justifiable, but called for.

Perhaps if people tried reading the sentences out loud, instead of worrying so much about rules, they would see this more easily.

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People take grammar too seriously. I've heard the following comments from want-to-be experts recently: "and" should never be used after a colon; "but" is a word that should never follow a semicolon; and finally, any conjunction following a semicolon, with the caveat that I am speaking only of English conjunctions, will not be understood as well as a conjunction following a comma. Period.

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Though I do it myself often, conjunctions are not a proper way to begin a sentence. The word 'but' is my favorite to rule-break with, but it is still incorrect. That is, unless you are quoting (as always, because it's perfectly acceptable to expose the ignorance of others). And, I fully agree with dogreed (yes, I did that on purpose). The semicolon replaces any conjunctions. I shot the sheriff, but I didn't shoot the deputy. I shot the sherrif; I didn't shoot the deputy.

As for usage, I don't think it's purely aesthetic. The two thoughts have to be related, or using it would not make sense. And when I'm reading, I treat a semicolon as less abrupt than a period. It's as if a period is a red-light. Long stop. A semicolon is a stop sign. If no one is coming, you slow down to a roll, but most people don't fully stop unless they have to (maybe a better analogy is an unmarked intersection, or flashing yellow). And a comma is like a yield sign. You can keep going if it's clear. ;)

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I think there may be rare (very rare) occasions where a semicolon before a coordinating conjunction might be an appropriate stylistic choice, but the examples given most certainly do not constitute such occasions. Those semicolons are absurd overkill that break up the flow and distract from the understanding of the sentences. Commas should have been used.

Using a semicolon to join sentences is largely an aesthetic choice anyway. You can always write them as two completely separate sentences, ending with periods and starting with capital letters, without changing the meaning.

I wonder (I am not sure) if the rare occasions when it is appropriate to follow a semicolon by "and" are, in fact, the same rare occasions when it would be appropriate to start the second sentence with "And", if one were writing it as two separate sentences.

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Since the semicolon joins sentences, which can stand on their own, I think whether or not a coordinating conjunction can follow a semicolon as in the aforequoted examples depends on if an independent sentence can begin with a coordinating conjunction.

Is ‘And that is a promise I will keep’ correct?

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Brus,

I disagree. A semicolon, when used to join two phrases, each of which could be a sentence, replaces the conjunction. When a conjunction is used a comma is employed.

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Correct, a conjunction is not needed, as you say, dogreed, but it may be used WITH a conjunction.

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You need know only this: a conjunction is not needed after a semicolon because a semicolon relpaces a conjunction.

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I’m still confused as to why the semicolon would be necessary in the aforequoted examples.

Isn’t ‘When I finish here, I will be glad to help you, and that is a promise I will keep’ perfectly understandable too? Isn’t its meaning with a comma exactly the same as with a semicolon?

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I stand by my comment. Punctuation, at its best, does not lead us through the maze of badly constructed sentences. It thrusts us through the good ones.

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It seems, dogreed, that sigurd got the info from a website, and not from a book; and, therefore, there will be no role for a receipt.

The information on the website is absolutely correct. Like all punctuation, it's a way guiding the reader through the sentence. The reason we punctuate in the first place is so that the reader knows what to expect, which clauses are subordinate to others, and how to take in the information expressed in the words. If we didn't have these rules, it would be much more difficult to read texts, as we would not have the signposts of punctuation.

We could surely use a different system of punctuation--like a comma could be used where periods currently are used--and, as long as we agreed on the rules, there would be no problem.

So, rules are there for a reason. Just because someone is not aware of the conventions doesn't make them incorrect--just ignorant. I wish that all would be vigilant about making sure they punctuated correctly.

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I hope you kept the receipt for this book, as it is rubbish. A semicolon is never used with a conjunction. In specific instances it replaces the conjunction. Others, I am sure, will explain.

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