Seven Grammar Tools to Love

Like many rule sets, grammar rules seem like they are forced upon us by some faceless, evil source driven to destroy our everyday communication. But you can look at it another way. To me, grammar rules are more like grammar tools—common methods understood by many that can be used to create something extraordinary.

Think of it like a hammer: most people know how to use one, and it is useful for many tasks. It is meant to be used in a few specific ways, and if you grossly misuse it, you might injure yourself or ruin whatever it is you are working on. But used conscientiously, you can use a hammer to build both ordinary and extraordinary things. Grammar “tools” work much the same way. They are common enough that most people at least know that they exist, but if you misuse them, you might injure yourself or ruin your project. However, if you learn how to use them, you can use these tools to create both ordinary communications like emails and to build extraordinary works like novels and poems.

Over time, I have learned to use my grammar tools to my advantage, and the following list details a few of my favorites.

1) Serial Comma (a.k.a. the Oxford Comma)

 The serial comma is placed between items in a list, as in:

  • Taylor, Rob, and Josh went to a bar.

Just the mention of this controversial little tadpole sparks either fiendish loyalty or icy indifference. The debate is whether or not the comma before the and is necessary. While I have met plenty of people who swear by the Oxford Comma, I haven’t encountered anyone yet who actively hates it.

Nor have I ever heard a good explanation why NOT to use one. The standard reply is that is takes up to much space on a page and that, depending on the context, it just might not be necessary for clarity. Ok, I hear ya: adding a comma before the and in a list may take up a negligible amount of space, but we live in a digital age where page space is infinitely cheaper and more flexible than it was in the days of typesetting. Furthermore, sacrificing a smidgen of space will eliminate misunderstanding. You CAN’T GO WRONG by using one, whereas leaving it out COULD cause confusion—or even lawsuits! For that reason, I see it as something to love and embrace—it’s guaranteed to make your writing that much better, so why not let the Oxford Comma into your heart?

2) Ellipses

Most of us know these three little dots as a way to create a pause on the page. It can be used to signify a trailing off or interruption. For example:

  • Where is Rob? I thought he was running this thing, and he’s already 10 minutes…”

“Hi, everyone. Sorry I’m late.”

“Hi Rob.”

There is another, more playful use of the ellipsis that I love to teach in my Basic Grammar Class (which starts April 28th). I call it the “yada, yada, yada” usage after the 153rd episode of Seinfeld entitled “The Yada Yada” in which the characters omit seemingly juicy or embarrassing bits of their stories by saying “yada, yada, yada.” Here’s an example:

  • Taylor went to the bar last night to drink a few whiskeys, and yada yada yada, she came to work this morning with a Tyson-esque face tattoo.

Instead of using yada yada yada, you can use the ellipses:

  • Taylor went to the bar last night to drink a few whiskeys, and…she came to work this morning with a Tyson-esque face tattoo.

Hemingway was a master of using the ellipses to NOT write things that might have been racy or that were better left unsaid. This is a fun grammar tool that can add intrigue and whimsy to your writing. Now there's a tool that’s easy to love.

3) The Imperative Verb Mood

Don’t freak out—I can see you already trying to read ahead to avoid having to learn what a flippin’ verb mood is—but bear with me.*

The imperative verb mood is also known as the COMMAND form—that’s right, as in TELLING PEOPLE WHAT TO DO. What’s not to love about that? The imperative allows you to omit the usual need for a subject in your sentence. Pronouns like I, you, they, she, we, etc. are typical subjects, as are nouns and proper nouns like empress, the cat, or Ted. A verb in the imperative mood always carries the subject “you”—either singular or plural, so there’s no need to add it in. The verb form itself implies that the speaker is speaking TO a person or persons, not about them. The result is a forceful verb that says exactly what it means.

  • Run! It’s a sharknado!

In the imperative, warning your friends to remove themselves from a cyclone of sharp-toothed fish is so much simpler when you don’t have to specify the subject.

  • You run! It’s a sharknado!

The you just takes too much time and sounds so awkward that your friends might pause to ponder it and get snapped up by a pissed-off, wind-blown great white as a result. You don’t want that, do you?

The imperative mood gives you the power to command people to take certain actions, and in the process you get to skip out on one of the most basic rules of sentences building—using a subject. So, learn it, use it, love it!*

*Author’s Note: Don’t freak out, bear with me, and learn it, use it, love it! are phrases that use the imperative verb mood to command you, the reader, to do (or not do) something. Note that I never say you, but it’s clear by the usage that I am talking to YOU! Isn’t that just so awesome?!?!?!

4) The Em Dash

The em dash (that’s the longer of the two dash types) has many uses, but one particular use is my favorite: the interrupter!

There are several ways that you can interrupt your sentences with parenthetical (or non-essential) information: the comma, the em dash, and—you guessed it—the parenthesis. Since I love to digress, the use of the em dash as a way to set off non-essential information is one of my favorite grammar tools. But, why, you might ask, do I prefer the em dash to the other two options? Because of the drama it creates, of course! My favorite pop grammarian, Grammar Girl Mignon Fogarty, once explained it this way:

Parentheses are the quiet whisper of an aside, commas are the conversational voice of a friend walking by your desk, and dashes are the yowl of a pirate dashing into a fray. 

Frankly, I haven’t found a better way to illustrate it than that. Let’s do a demonstration:

  • After years of drinking mostly cheap wine, Taylor now prefers whiskey, but only the expensive kind.
  • After years of drinking mostly cheap wine, Taylor now prefers whiskey (but only the expensive kind).
  • After years of drinking mostly cheap wine, Taylor now prefers whiskey—but only the expensive kind.

In each case, the portion of the sentence that starts with but is non-essential information, i.e., removing it wouldn’t ruin the intent or grammatical structure. In the first example with the comma, the last bit comes as a sort of dry relaying of information. In the second, the detail about the expensive whiskey comes off as if it were being told to the reader as a secret. In the last version the dash is much more abrupt and loud. It’s non-essential information, but the use of the em dash ensures that it won’t be ignored.

My love of the em dash—as many who read my columns would know—borders on abuse, but it’s one of my favorite punctuation marks because it is so versatile and exciting. I’m sorry, but commas are just so boring in comparison!

5) Conjunctions

What is better than two sentences? Why two sentences connected with a conjunction to make a single sentence, of course! Conjunctions are the linking words for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so, (a.k.a. FANBOYS) and I am a FanGIRL of these utilitarian little words. (Har-dee-har-har.) No, really! I probably use a sentence that contains a conjunction in nearly everything I write, for they are just so useful. See? I did it just there. Conjunctions are used to link together two otherwise complete and independent clauses (which can stand alone as complete sentences) into one sentence by adding a comma and an appropriate conjunction. For example:

  • Portland is a small city. It is full of urban charm.
  • Portland is a small city, yet it is full of urban charm.

The second example shows the clear thematic connection between the two sentences in the first example by linking them together. In fact, you can use conjunctions to link together more than two independent clauses. So long as is makes senses, there really is no limit to the number of conjunctions you can use in a sentence.

Portland is a small city, yet it is full of urban charm, but it’s not too dirty or crowded, so it’s a perfect place to raise a family.

Sure, this does get a little tedious, but it’s still grammatically correct. It’s a great way to ramble on without writing a run-on sentence. Just as a refresher, a run-on sentence is not simply a long sentence, it is a sentence that lacks the proper punctuation to be grammatically correct. Writers like Charles Dickens wrote insanely long sentences that were grammatically sound. If you are long-winded on the page, then knowing your conjunctions is essential to crafting epic sentences that won’t offend the grammarians in your life.

6) Passive Voice

As a veteran of the Creative Writing Degree system that has helped thousands of writers earn actual (though mostly useless) college degrees in prose writing, I, too, was indoctrinated into the “passive voice is evil” club.

It was so drilled into me during my education, that, for a time, I truly believed that passive voice was a completely useless, and possibly dangerous, verb construction. I mean, who are all these people who can’t seem to take responsibility for their actions?!?

However, I realized the modern creative writing community’s insistence on nothing but active verbs made all of our writing seem robotic and aggressive. Passive voice allows you to tackle a topic from a different angle instead of always hitting your sentences head on. It seems maniacal to persist in ramming your readers through the front door of every sentence when you can, occasionally, sneak them around the back.

Passive voice allows the writer to shift focus from the doer to the deed. In some cases, this is a nice balance from the constant pressure to name the actor of every single verb in your piece. It is, occasionally, NOT important WHO made the mistakes, but that mistakes were made. Certainly, we don’t appreciate this sort of blame-deflection when we DO need to hold someone accountable, but grammatically speaking and stylistically speaking, passive voice is NOT always bad. In fact, it can be very useful when deployed conscientiously.

In Steven Pinker’s latest book, Sense of Style, he reminds grammarians that “linguistic research has shown that the passive construction has a number of indispensable functions because of the way it engages a reader's attention and memory.” Sure, you might say, it’s SO like a cognitive scientist and psycholinguist to advocate passive voice construction since the science community often employs passive voice to direct a reader away from the actions of the scientist conducting an experiment and toward the result of that test. And, in some ways, I’d agree. But Pinker has a point. As writers, we have to understand the human mind to a degree because we use words to implant ideas in the minds of our readers. Knowing how to mold those minds is an important skill for the practitioners of the writing craft to perfect.

Consider this simple example:

  • The baker baked the cinnamon rolls to perfection.
  • The cinnamon rolls were baked to perfection.

Sure, the first example contains the subject (the baker) and the active verb (baked), and it would be considered by most main-stream editors to be the good version.

However, is the focus really on the baker—or is it on the perfect cinnamon rolls?

My vote is for the cinnamon rolls since they take center stage here—not the baker. Unless the story is about the baker and not the rolls, it can make sense to extract the actor from the sentence and focus only on result of the action—perfect cinnamon rolls.

So go ahead, give yourself license to use passive voice in your writing when and where is makes sense. It’s not BAD, in fact, it can be used for good.

7) Semicolon

It’s time to learn, once and for all, to love this winking wonder of punctuation. When I finally learned to use the semicolon correctly, I was actually a bit mad at all my English teachers for not highlighting how simple the rules for semicolon use actually are. Compared to the comma, the semicolon has only a few jobs, and they are very distinct. The first is to separate items in a list that already contain commas, for example:

  • The forest is full of sly, red foxes; leafy, loam-covered trees; and chattering squirrels.

The commas are used to separate adjectives, so ALSO using them to separate the items would be confusing—thus the semicolon. Easy, right?

The other main usage for the semicolon is the same as the comma+conjunction rule I pointed out earlier. If you want to connect two (or more) thematically similar sentences to create a single sentence, you can 1) use the comma+conjunction rule, or 2) you can throw out the period and connect the two sentences directly. Observe:

  • The cinnamon rolls were baked to perfection.
  • Taylor ate three of them in succession.
  • The cinnamon rolls were baked to perfection; Taylor ate three of them in succession.

BAM! It’s so effing simple, I want to kick the me from yesteryear who assumed semicolons were so complicated. If I only had a time machine!

The problem with grammar is that some of it is complicated, so all this time is spent learning the nuances—but no time is spent showing students the EASY stuff. If we were allowed to master some of these easier grammar tools, we might be more confident about learning and mastering the harder ones. The usage rules for the semicolon are actually quite simple, therefore learning to love the semicolon is actually much easier than it seems.

Weigh in, dear readers. What are your favorite grammar tools? Why do you love them? Go ahead, gush! We're all wordophiles here.

Taylor Houston

Column by Taylor Houston

Taylor Houston is a genuine Word Nerd living in Portland, OR where she works as a technical writer and volunteers on the marketing committee for Wordstock, a local organization dedicated to writing education. She has a BA in Creative Writing and Spanish from Hamilton College and attended Penn State's MFA program in Creative Nonfiction. She has taught writing at all levels from middle school to college to adult, and she is the creator of Writer’s Cramp, a class for adults who just want to write!

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Redd Tramp's picture
Redd Tramp from Los Angeles, CA is reading Mongrels by SGJ; Sacred and Immoral: On the Writings of Chuck Palahniuk; The History of Sexuality by Michel Foucault February 13, 2015 - 9:41am

You cleared up a lot of haziness for me. 

One question, though. I rarely use the semicolon in fiction. I like it when I come across it in reading and it's been used to good effect, and I like to use it in essays, but for whatever reason they just almost never come up in prose fiction for me. But, once, I came across someone using one before a 'but', and I think also before an 'and', and I didn't think that was right. I mean, why not just use a comma? But they insisted it could be used that way, and I haven't been able to ask anyone about it. Are there any other semicolon uses besides the two you listed?

Taylor's picture
Taylor from Portland, Oregon is reading 'Alexander Hamilton' by Ron Chernow February 13, 2015 - 11:01am

Hi Redd Tramp,

You are correct.

To my knowledge, you would either use the semicolon OR the comma+conjunction combo (such as ", and" or ", but". I do NOT think it's correct to use a semicolon with the conjunction. The reason is that the conjunction becomes the first word of the second independent clause. You need to be able to remove the semicolon and have each half of the sentence make sense. For example:

The fog was lovely this morning; it enveloped the usually noisy city in a soft, quiet shroud. CORRECT

The fog was lovely this morning, and it enveloped the usually noisy city in a soft, quiet shroud. CORRECT

The fog was lovely this morning. It enveloped the usually noisy city in a soft, quiet shroud. CORRECT

The fog was lovely this morning; and it enveloped the usually noisy city in a soft, quiet shroud.

INCORRECT because if you were to remove the semicolon, you'd get:

The fog was lovely this morning. And it enveloped the usually noisy city in a soft, quiet shroud.

Strictly speaking, starting a sentence witha conjunction is not "correct."; however, I would argue it is an accepted usage, and used with stylistic intent, I'd never even worry about if I came accross it. In the case of the semicolon, it's redundant and not needed. Use one method or the other--not both. The semicolon is meant to tie two ideas together, but maintain separation at the same time. That is why a semicolon is made up of a period and a comma. It's not a full stop, but it's longer than a comma pause. 

There are other semicolon uses, but they all really hinge on the same thing--connecting two independent clauses into a single sentence with two subject+verb constructions.

For example, you CAN use a semicolon before the word "however" because "however" can start a sentence (just follow it with a comma.) (See my usage above.)

I think the semicolon is underused in modern fiction writing, but I think that's because people see it as being "formal" for some reason. Maybe they do that because they don't exactly understand how best to employ it. I would encourage you to find places to use it your fiction writing--why not? Can't hurt!


Redd Tramp's picture
Redd Tramp from Los Angeles, CA is reading Mongrels by SGJ; Sacred and Immoral: On the Writings of Chuck Palahniuk; The History of Sexuality by Michel Foucault February 13, 2015 - 12:26pm

Wow, thanks for all that. I have a new appreciation for the semicolon, and will definitely try to see how I can work it into my fiction. The reason I've avoided it has been partly because I just didn't feel I fully understood it, but also because I guess I find it kind of distracting. I don't think that when I'm reading someone else's work, but for some reason, when I'm putting words down and a semicolon comes out it glares at me from the page. But I know that when I've seen it used and realized its function in whatever paragraph, tying two separate but related ideas together, I liked it and it didn't jar me. So probably it's just a matter of me being overly critical of my own prose.

I like that you pointed that out, also, that it's longer than a comma pause, and that that's why it's a comma and a period put together. That's kind of how I always thought of it, I guess, although I didn't fully understand all of its uses: a period mixed with a comma, or a comma mixed with a colon, since the second idea gets tied to the first, like how a colon kind of has a 'ta-dah' effect. At least in my brain it does.

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami February 13, 2015 - 4:44pm

As someone not a grammar guru -- being one more apt to be skilled with learning about grandfathers -- passive voice is of the more confusing types of grammar for me.

I'm guessing you could go by a simple rule: if seems like two sentences, but removing it makes it seems like two separate sentences, then it probably needs a semi-colon.

I'm guessing of course, as I never use them.

Passive voice, I'm really not getting the hooplah about not using them. I regularly switch between the two, if I'm wanting some scenes to direct attention away from the main character.

Always replace like a, with not a. As it makes one seems like of an egotistical prick face.

Travis Sullivan's picture
Travis Sullivan February 13, 2015 - 5:53pm

I activally hate the oxford comma. It can cause as much confusion as it can clear up. Just don't be lazy with your sentences. Linda, her sister, and Mark came over. Only 2 people are mentioned in this line because her sister is an appositive, but because so many lazy writers swear by the oxford comma, they would see this as 3 people. (Yes, just like every stupid oxford comma 'example', this sentence could be rewritten for clarity even with the oxford comma. Which brings up the point, why use it?) 

Travis Sullivan's picture
Travis Sullivan February 13, 2015 - 5:57pm

3 dots are not technecally an ellipsis, but they are a writing tool created by publishers to save space since a real ellipsis would require closing puncutation at the end of the sentence. But using it for omitted words, pauses and other bits inside the story is a great use of the ellipsis. 

Anna Gutmann's picture
Anna Gutmann from Ohio is reading American Gods February 13, 2015 - 7:38pm

I too am obsessed with em dashes. If I'm not careful I tend to overuse them in my writing! Still, they can be insanely helpful little buggers given the appropriate situation. :-)

Gameboy70's picture
Gameboy70 February 15, 2015 - 10:28am

My main problem with ellipses, em-dashes, and semicolons is how they facilitate overloaded sentences. Normally a sentence with more than one or two appositives would seem labored, signalling the writer to refactor it into two sentences. Once the writer begins replacing commas with em-dashes or semicolons, there's no limit to how long a grammatically "legal" sentence can grow, even though the sentence is just as labored.

Overloaded sentences seem to be symptomatic of texting and social media, where crutches like ellipses and em-dashes are used to imply inflection. Instead of trying to connote nonverbal nuances, we should focus on writing more precise sentences. We're losing our ability to write sentences with a clear beginning, middle and end.

Taylor's picture
Taylor from Portland, Oregon is reading 'Alexander Hamilton' by Ron Chernow February 20, 2015 - 2:34pm

Travis! You are the first person who has ever told me they hated the Oxford comma! Most people just tell me some English teacher as some point told them not to use it or that it was optional, so they just don't use it. No one has EVER given me a good explanation--until now. You are totally correct in your assessment that there are some sentences where a comma before the "and" COULD leave the reader to the wrong conclusion. Thank you for that! I still stand by it, but I think your example is a good one. I guess the moral of the story is--BE CLEAR in your writing and don't just use or NOT use rules without considering the actual impact on the reader's understand. Agreed?


Gameboy70: I do agree with you. I love a good, long sentence, but, yeah, I wouldn't want to read a whole book of them! Variety is key, of course. 

Richard Sliwa's picture
Richard Sliwa February 22, 2015 - 9:08am

I found this article while searching around online as I debated the finer points of the Oxford comma with a friend.

My primary attitude towards which abuses of the rules of grammar and syntax make my blood boil and which do not, is ultimately down to a question of what aids clarity and what leads to obfuscation. The most common of these is the abuse of apostophes and knowing the difference between pronouns which are the subjects or objects of verbs - I/me, who/whom your/you're, its/it's, their/there/they're. The most fustrating thing about these things is the fact that, like semicolons, the rules are extremely straightforward and, in my case, learned during one period of English class aged about 8, never to be forgotten.

On to the serial comma.... As a British speaker of English, throughout my schooling I had it drummed into me that good and clear style requires that commas before conjunctions are to be avoided, unless you are introducing a separate or paralell clause rather than just another item in a list. It is an attitude that has served me well and, to extent, even rules the cadence of my spoken English!

In my case things are potentially complicated by the fact that I am trilingual, and that in Polish and French, the technical rules of using commas before conjunctions are incredibly complex. So ultimately, rather than considering any kind of "rule", I favour a common sense approach of how would I best get my idea across with the least confusion - unless of course confusion is my aim!

I would also add that in British jurisprudence  (I'm unsure of the US), legal documents such as contracts (and indeed the very text of laws!) where precision in meaning and intent are of paramount importance have traditionally eschewed all forms of punctuation, a principle which is increasingly falling by the wayside.  Sentences are often unweildly but at least the intent is usually very clear. Argument surrounding the preface of the Second Amendment to the US Constitution - with commas or without? - is a famous example of such confusion.

This is the sentence which started the debate with my friend (an American), in a professional resumé: "Over a period of 20 years in a variety of customer support, legal, office and administration roles I have gained a considerable appreciation of anticipating and meeting customer, business and colleague needs, and honed my skills in facilities and personel management, and office, technical and financial procedures".

I submit that serial commas before "and administration" and "and financial" would render an already complex sentence utterly unintelligible. Potentially a couple of semicolons could be employed eleswhere.

P.S. I share your appreciation of the em dash! (regrettably rendered in this comment as n dashes due to technical limitations)

P.P.S. I was also taught that active voice should be the preferred default, and that passive voice should only be used purposefully and deliberately. As in this paragraph!

Gerri LeClerc's picture
Gerri LeClerc February 22, 2015 - 9:49am

Great article. Two questions. When you use an ellipse at the end of a sentence, do you use four dots?

Second: I was told not to use semicolons in dialogue. "People don't speak in semicolons." 

Love your site. A great resource for grammar. Thanks, Gerri 

Taylor's picture
Taylor from Portland, Oregon is reading 'Alexander Hamilton' by Ron Chernow February 23, 2015 - 11:28am

Hi Richard!

I agree with you that ensuring clarity is the primary aim of all "rules," so if you have a good argument for "breaking" a rule, then it's fine!

That resume sentence, though, needs more work than a serial complicated. As a hiring manager, I'd have trashed that thing before I reached the first conjunction. Sorry to be harsh, but that sentence needs some work. I learned that in the world of job seeking, SIMPLE is best. Which is hard for a wordy freak like me. I speak from experience. Anyway, that's another topic.


Hi Gerri! 

Thank you for reading! I'm glad you find the site helpful!

As for elipses at the end of the sentence, you only need three dots. No need to add the extra period at the end.

As for semilcolons in dialogue, I would argue that there is no rule against it! I would also argue that people don't speak with a lot of the punctuation that we have had to create in order to make ourselves understood on a page. For instance, if I yell at someone, you know I'm yelling. On the page, I have to use punctuation (an exclamation mark, probably) to make that point. Thus, if a semicolon adds the right tone to the spoken parts of a piece of prose, then USE IT. I have to say I am not a fan of the modern inclination by a lot of writers to write dialogue as a bunch of choppy sentences. Seems like the use of sentence-ending punctuation (the period, especially) is overused in a lot of dialogue. I would argue people don't speak like that either.

So, it's my opinion (duh), but I'd say, if it makes sense and you have a good reason, go ahead and use a semicolon in dialogue. Just be ready to explain it, I guess, should someone take issue. 

Redd Tramp's picture
Redd Tramp from Los Angeles, CA is reading Mongrels by SGJ; Sacred and Immoral: On the Writings of Chuck Palahniuk; The History of Sexuality by Michel Foucault February 23, 2015 - 4:40pm

So, in my Philosophy class, we just read Apology by Plato--which, admittedly is super old and probably translated funkily (yes, funkily)--and I came across a million zillion semicolons before 'and's and 'but's. I also came across one recently, if I recall correctly, while reading Invisible Monsters by Palahniuk. So while I feel as though the semicolon makes a lot more sense now, I'm still a little confused. More than a little.

Taylor's picture
Taylor from Portland, Oregon is reading 'Alexander Hamilton' by Ron Chernow February 26, 2015 - 12:01pm

Hi Redd,

I know, I know---you just can't account for all the exceptions out there. Remember, there is still a thing called artistic license, and fiction/poetry cannot be held as good examples of writing that adheres to strict grammar rules. Palahniuk, I can tell you, knows his grammar rules. He also knows how to break them. Think of Picasso: the man could most certainly paint a regular, life-like portrait of a person or a still life of some apples on a table. But he choose to break the rules. And for that, we remember him. The ability to break the rules to achieve a specific effect or create meaning is how writing goes from communication to art. And yeah, I am probably preaching to the choir, right?

Also, I wouldn't use the translation of something ridiculously old as a guide for modern usage. Remember 1) it's old, 2) it was not written in English, 3) it has been translated into a semi-modern usage of English from a VERY ancient language, and 4) it was originally delivered as a speech, and it was written down later. (Take THAT whoever said you can't use semi-colons in dialogue--whoever translated this doesn't seem to think so.)

Strictly speaking, you wouldn't use a semicolon and a conjunction--but not all writers are strict, are they. I would always argue that, no matter the "rule", there is a reason to break it, but only if you know HOW exaclty your are breaking it to create something unique. 

Sorry if that is more confusing. Let me try one more explanation: 

In your stories (fiction, or creative nonfiction) or poetry, using a semicolon with a conjunction can be just fine if you are using it for a specific purpose. Remember, it's used to create a medium-sized pause between two complete thoughts, so however you interpret that, you may use a semicolon for the job. Just like it is OK to start a sentence with a conjunction in creative prose/poetry, it's OK to use the semicolon/conjunction combo when you are doing it on purpose.

In your resume letters, emails at work, written instructions, nonfiction writing, i.e. anything formal, you will not combine a semicolon with a conjunction. In fact, you wouldn't start a sentence with a conjunction either. In formal writing, you observe the rules more strictly because you are attempting straight-forward, unembellished, and unencumbered communication. Trust me, I LOVE to write creatively, but I pay the bills by writing business process documentation and other technical writing assignments. I do not get creative with my punctuation when I am writing a company policy or human resources employee manual. 


Redd Tramp's picture
Redd Tramp from Los Angeles, CA is reading Mongrels by SGJ; Sacred and Immoral: On the Writings of Chuck Palahniuk; The History of Sexuality by Michel Foucault February 26, 2015 - 3:14pm

That was entirely helpful. Thank you. :)