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I’ve been noticing another wave of incorrectly used semicolons. I joined another writing forum to see if I could meet any interesting writers, concepts or tips, and to provide advice. It seems a lot of amateur writers are caught in that transition phase between simplistic writing and using linguistic features (such as punctuation, and in this case semicolons) to spruce up their narrative. Unfortunately, this transition phase tends to see a lot of errors.

So let’s lay down some quick terminology. You should all know what a semicolon is. A comma splice is when two sections of a sentence are joined together by a comma when they can be standalone sentences by themselves (known as a main clause/independent clause). By the way, if you omit the comma altogether (so it’s just two sentences stuck on the ends of one another with no punctuation in between) it’s known as a fused sentence.

I’m still learning about punctuation, today I learned how to use semicolons.

That’s an example of a comma splice. Now there’s a number of ways to fix it.

  1. Separate it into two sentences. I’m still learning about punctuation. Today I learned how to use semicolons.
  2. Use a coordinating conjunction (for, and, nor, but or, yet, so). I’m still learning about punctuation, and today I learned how to use semicolons.
  3. Use a subordinate conjunction (because, since, once, as, if, unless, though, etc.). Because I’m still learning about punctuation, today I learned how to used semi colons.
  4. Use a semicolon. I’m still learning about punctuation; today I learned how to use semicolons.

Let’s just solidify what those examples should have taught you (if you didn’t already know) and refocus on semicolons. The two clauses separated by the semicolon have to be independent clauses. They have to be sentences by themselves. It’s very easy to remember but oddly hard to follow.

On an ending note, I’d like to point out that sometimes rules can be broken. I’m a big advocate of bending the rules for stylistic effect but I’m tired of seeing people use this as an excuse. If you break a rule to create rhetorical effect, fair enough. Just make sure there’s a distinct purpose for you breaking the rule, and that even an idiot can tell you did it on purpose. And don’t overdo it. It’s only special if it’s rare.

While I’m on the topic, here’s another excuse that really ticks me off. Using cummings as an excuse to ignore rules of English. For those that don’t know, cummings was a poet famous for (among other things) ignoring capitalisation in his poems. That’s why people often don’t capitalise his name; it’s sort of like a weird little tribute to him. However, let’s get this straight. First, he wrote poetry, which already bends a lot of rules. Second, he became famous. It’s very difficult to criticise the successful. Third, you are not cummings. There are literally tens of thousands of other writers competing with you (in any sense of the word) and not many people have even heard of your name. You will not be excused for breaking rules. At least not until you become famous first.

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As promised, a literary post. This one is a common misconception. I was disappointed when it appeared on the Big Bang Theory because the show is normally fairly accurate when making its witty jokes. I’m not sure why this one is so persistent when all grammarians agree that this claim is false.

So, what’s a preposition? Well, simply put it’s a word that creates a relationship with another word. Here are a few common ones: for, of, about, in, to, with, on, at, by, after, over, etc.

To use the Big Bang Theory’s example, Dennis Kim the genius Korean boy tells Leonard that his English is pretty good, except for the tendency to end his sentence with a preposition. Leonard replies: “What are you talking about?” (Which ends with a preposition).

Now, is this wrong? Certainly not. To avoid ending with prepositions, one would have to talk like Yoda. It would be “About what are you talking?”.

Apparently this convention for not ending sentences with prepositions began in the 18th century when some grammarians believed that English should follow Latin grammar. Regardless, it is not wrong to do it.

The only time you shouldn’t end with a preposition is when that preposition is extraneous (unnecessary). An example would be “Where are you at?”, where the “at” is unnecessary because “Where are you?” is perfectly proper by itself.

I remember an article a while back condemning our future generations to a world where English literacy has suffered at all levels – particularly spelling. The cause is technology’s “auto-correct”.

In the interests of keeping English literacy at an acceptable level, I’m going to tell you 10 words that people still can’t seem to spell and how I remember it. It would suck to survive a massive global recession and be remembered just for butchering the English language.

This overlaps a bit with one of my other posts so I’ll try to make these words different.

  1. Since we’re talking about misspelled words, let’s start with that: Misspelled. Remember it this way – the prefix “mis” alludes to being wrong. “Mispelled” would be wrongly “pelled”. In the same way, it’s misstep not “mistep”.
  2. Next up is accommodate. It’s double “c” double “m”. Straight forward enough – if you’re not sure just double them because there’s enough room to accommodate them all.
  3. Professor is a crowd favourite. It’s often the butt of jokes on TV shows. I just think of the short term “Prof.” and consider that all the “f” I need.
  4. This one is definitely a problem. People are always saying “definately”. This is mostly due to how people pronounce the word these days. Remember it this way: the word “finite” is in it.
  5. A lot and never mind are both two separate words! Stop combining them! I think the culprit here is the word “anyway” which makes you think you can combine all the words that you say quickly.
  6. Don’t be embarrassed when spelling this word – just remember it’s double “r” and double “s”.
  7. Per se does not come from English (it’s Latin), so remember, it’s not “per say”.
  8. Lightning is the electrical discharge. Lightening is the process of making something lighter. Remember this by remembering that you “lighten” something.
  9. A principal is the position for a person and he is not your pal. It’s the principle of the matter.
  10. It’s separate. Remember the “par”!

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