Jordan Ogren

October 5, 2021

The hidden power of the semicolon.

How often do you think about punctuation?

I’d guess under 5 minutes a week. I’m no different. School gave me the belief that punctuation was useless.

I believed the more time spent on a subject in school, the less important it was in the real world (e.g., stems, history dates). I may have been right about the uselessness of remembering when George Washington was president. But I was wrong about a few things.

Punctuation is one of those things I was wrong about. Understanding punctuation has helped me write more proficiently while lowering the friction for you (the reader).

Instead of giving you twenty paragraphs on all the ways punctuation can help, I want to focus on one tool: the semicolon.

When’s the last time you whisked one into your writing? Can’t remember? 

To help you begin using this unique asset, let’s focus on what it does.

A semicolon has three core responsibilities:
  1. Link two independent clauses or complete sentences;
  2. Link two independent clauses when the second clause is introduced by an adverb such as however or therefore;
  3. Add clarity to a series when the items are long or have internal commas.

What is the goal of the semicolon? How can you determine if it is “working?”

The first question to ask yourself: Is the semicolon clunky or subtle?
The second question: Does the semicolon create a pause shorter than a period but longer than a comma?
The third and final question: Does it make sense for the two independent clauses to be connected?

If your answer is yes to all three of those questions, spice up your writing by adding a semicolon. If not, stick with a period to avoid clunkiness.

Here are two examples to help:

#1 Original:
“Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what your country can do for you.”

#1 With semicolon:
“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what your country can do for you.”

#2 Original:
“Understanding a concept is one thing, but applying it is another.”

#2 With semicolon:
“Understanding a concept is one thing; but applying it is another.”

Marketing insights ⚔️
  • The semicolon adds subtly in connecting two independent clauses
  • The semicolon can help you advance/move forward within the text (connect to different things)
  • Remember: Colons introduce; semicolons separate.

Why is learning about semicolons necessary for a marketer? Because good marketing is good writing.

And to write well, you must understand the rules and frameworks to either play within or break. 

Until you understand, you cannot apply, and you will not get better until you apply.

Are you ready to get better as a writer by applying greater punctuation?

🧠 + ❤️ // JO