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Half a Colon’s Better than No Colon at All

One of the more egregious writing errors I come across—from adults who ought to know better, no less—is the joining of independent clauses with a comma.* Like this, for example:

I’m not feeling well this afternoon, I’m going home early.

The two independent clauses (clauses that can stand alone as complete sentences) are, of course, I’m not feeling well this afternoon and I’m going home early. They each contain a subject and a verb; each is syntactically correct. Which means replacing the comma with a period would technically be within the rules.

I’m not feeling well this afternoon. I’m going home early.

Clearly, however, that’s lame. So what’s a writer to do? Let’s look at three options, the first of which plays on the cause-and-effect relationship:

Because I’m not feeling well this afternoon, I’m going home early.

Now we have both a dependent and an independent clause; joining the two with a comma is grammatically kosher. Second, we could introduce a conjunction. Like, say…so:

I’m not feeling well this afternoon, so I’m going home early.

Not just any conjunction will do, however, so choose wisely. Finally, we could deploy the much-maligned semicolon, which is far and away my favorite punctuation mark:

I’m not feeling well this afternoon; I’m going home early.

What’s the difference between the period and the semicolon? Semicolons indicate a closer relationship between the two clauses. (Notice the implied “therefore” in the above example?)

INCORRECT: Aaron is a genius, I have much to learn from him.
CORRECT: Aaron is a genius; I have much to learn from him.

*Known as a comma splice or a run-on sentence.



11.18.2010, 9:09am
by Spimbi
Avatar

“Aaron is a genius.” Is this moral superiority or word beaver superiority?


11.18.2010, 9:11am
by Aaron Bragg
Aaron Bragg

Simply a statement of fact. Sort of like “the sun will rise in the east tomorrow.”


11.18.2010, 12:19pm
by Spimbi
Avatar

Shouldn’t it be:

Simply a statement of fact; like “the sun will rise in the east tomorrow.”


11.18.2010, 3:32pm
by Aaron Bragg
Aaron Bragg

Um…no.


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