At yesterday’s meeting of the Poetry Society of Tennessee’s Northeastern Branch (PST-NE) in Gray, TN, the group was critiquing one of my poems. I’d overused the semi-colon. Gulp! Oops! Ben Dugger, our resident poetry expert, from the Masters Program at George Mason University offered to write me out some ‘rules’ . Did I get the university right, Ben? I trust Ben’s opinion, because he helped me tremendously with my senyru submission to the April PST monthly contest and I won first place! Unfortunately, I wasn’t qualified to help him as much, but he still won third place! Look out Memphis the NE branch is doing good.
Ben agreed I could share this information on my blog. His expertise may help other writers as well. These ‘rules’ are not only for poetry, but are useful for prose. So here is a reprint of his message to me on semi-colons.
Ben Dugger wrote –
“I am attaching the semicolon rules to this e-mail. I wrote the examples this morning (examples always assist me in understanding a concept), and I hope they are sufficiently clear. As I state in the last paragraph of my “rule sheet,” the most important ingredients in this “semisalad” are TWO INDEPENDENT CLAUSES!
There are five basic uses of a semicolon in American English:
– use a semicolon between independent clauses NOT joined by a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, etc.).
Some authors may worry about correct punctuation; others won’t give it a second thought.
– use a semicolon between independent clauses joined by a conjunctive adverb (however, indeed, nevertheless, etc.).
Some authors may worry about correct punctuation; however, others won’t give it a second thought.
– use a semicolon between independent clauses of a compound sentence if the clauses are extremely long OR are themselves subdivided by commas, OR if writer desires a more definitive break than that marked by a comma.
Only a free human being can make an absolute choice; but the human being who is free can never be forced to make such a choice; otherwise, he is not truly free.
The first and third lines of the poem are composed in iambic tetrameter; the second line contains a troche and an amphibrach; and the fourth line an iamb and an anapest, with alternate rhyming.
– use a semicolon after expressions such as HE SAID and SHE REPLIED if said expression comes between two independent clauses.
“I’m sure you’ll enjoy the play,” he said; “just get dressed and go.”
(Note: the writer may use a period after HE SAID in the above example, but a comma is never used,)
– use a semicolon to replace commas in separating elements in a series IF the elements themselves contain commas.
The award-winning cities were Johnson City, Tennessee; Falls Church, Virginia; and Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
The phrase “independent clauses” is stated in all rules of usage for the semicolon, save the last. In most cases, therefore, if one wishes to use a semicolon, at least two independent clauses must be present.”
End of Ben’s quote.
My Gregg Reference Manual (Ninth Edition) also has eleven sections which state semi-colon use. They all seem to agree with Ben’s ‘rules’. I only quote the following from the Gregg book which I thought was important for me to know.
The Semicolon – Between Independent Clauses – And, But, Or, or Nor Omitted. However, if the clauses are not closely related, treat them as separate sentences.
The omission of but between two independent clauses requires, strictly speaking, the use of a semicolon between the two clauses. However, when the clauses are short, a comma is commonly used to preserve the flow of the sentence. Example: Not only was the food bad, the portions were minuscule.
End of excerpt from the Gregg book.
So, now I will determine which (probably all) semi-colons must go away in my poem.
As always, I welcome your comments.
My website is at http://www.roseklix.com