The semicolon has been known to divide loving families into shouting melees, and to send careers down in flames. It is the most contentious and passion-inducing piece of punctuation – and the most addictive.
How NOT to use a semicolon:
1. Frequently. I once had an editor add more than a dozen semicolons to a single page of a story (and there weren’t any lists). When I politely pointed out that he’d let his punctuation run away with him, he took another look and soon apologised profusely. My peeps, don’t let over-semicoloning happen to you!
2. To show off. This is particularly true in academia, where the person marking you has been scarred by both #1 and #3. Between Year 11 and the end of university (which was heavy on English courses) I discovered that a significant number of teachers and lecturers were so passionately opposed to semicolons – any semicolons – that they would mark essays more harshly if a single semicolon was spotted lurking (correctly or otherwise) in the text. For this reason, I did not use semicolons in essays for six years. I honestly recommend you do the same.
3. Incorrectly. If in doubt, use a comma. It will be correct.
Moving on, here is a simple tutorial on semicolons, with pretty pretty pictures to help you through the strain of intellectual effort on a Saturday morning. Enjoy.
And here is Ana. . . lurking like a semicolon gone bad: