Comma or semicolon? | Jane’s grammar nugget

by | Apr 2, 2008 | Grammar & Spelling

Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation, 11th editionComma or semicolon? Do these give you fits? The late Jane Straus, author of The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation, has another useful grammar nugget to help ease your pain.

Jane says: “Many of you have been asking for help with punctuating between sentences. You want to know when you should use a comma and when you need a semicolon. Here are a few rules with examples that I hope you find very helpful.”


Rule: Use a comma between two complete, long clauses (two subject and verb pairs) when conjunctions such as and, or, but, for, nor connect them.

Example: I have painted the entire house, but she is still working on sanding the floors.

Rule: If the clauses are short (your call), then leave out the comma.

Example: I painted and he sanded.

Rule: If you have only one clause (one subject and verb pair), do not use a comma in front of the conjunction.

Example: I have painted the house but still need to sand the floors.
(This sentence has two verbs but only one subject, so it has only one clause.)


So when does the semicolon get to have its time in the spotlight?

Rule: Use the semicolon if you have two clauses you are connecting without a conjunction.

Example: I have painted the house; I still need to sand the floors.

Rule: Also, use the semicolon when you have commas for smaller separations, and you need the semicolon to show a bigger separation.

Example: We had a reunion with family from Salt Lake City, Utah; Los Angeles, California; and Albany, New York.

Related: Comma splice errors: An object lesson

Reprinted by permission of the late Jane Straus, author of the bestselling The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation, from her free e-newsletters and blogs.

We love The Blue Book so much that we’ve been carrying it for years in the WriteShop store. We also include it in the WriteShop Starter Bundle. It’s a combination reference book and workbook, oh so easy to use, and handy for home or office. Jane’s examples are short, simple, and practical.


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