Monday, October 8, 2012

31 Days: Day 8 A Grammatical BOGO

Before we get started on the lesson du jour, let me give a quick update to those of you who know I've been under the weather.

Last week I saw the doctor twice with flu-like symptoms, but no sore throat and no head congestion. We immediately ruled out the flu because there was, in his words, "no upper respiratory component." With so many people in my area sick with strep, that's what I figured it was, but the throat culture came back negative. The doctor then took half a gallon of blood and ordered a bunch of other tests that mean nothing to me, and they all came back perfectly normal. In fact, looking at all the results, you would think I'm the healthiest woman on planet earth. Except I'm not.

The last result we were waiting for was the West Nile virus one, which I found out on Friday was also negative. But somehow in the midst of all the blood-slinging hoopla, we neglected to do a monospot test. So we've added that to our list. And then Friday evening I got a Facebook message from my brother in Vietnam that said, "Have you been tested for Lyme?"

That may be the $25,000 question. Remember back in June when Mike was here with his girlfriend and we went for a hike in the George Washington National Forest and picked ticks off ourselves for days afterward?

Yeah. I'll be getting a Lyme test this week too. We're trying to get in to see an infectious disease specialist in Baltimore, so if you're the praying type, I'd appreciate prayers that we can get in quickly and get some answers.

And now, since I feel like my grandmother talking about all my ailments and what doctor appointments I have when, let's get on with grammar.

There may be no more-feared punctuation mark than the semicolon, and that's a shame, because he's really a nice little fellow. His idea of fun is joining things together—sort of a verbal holding of hands.
But most people don't know what, exactly, the semicolon does. We all know he makes cute winky faces   ;)   but what does he do in the world of punctuation?

And what luck! We can't possibly talk about semicolons without also covering the much-dreaded comma splice. This will be a two-lessons-in-one night—a grammatical BOGO! So let's explain the comma splice first, and then you'll know exactly what to do with Mr. Winky-face.

The word splice is easiest to understand as an electrician's term that means "join." When you have two wires that must be joined so the current can flow through them without interruption, you splice them. Typically this involves removing a half inch of the plastic wire coating, twisting the two wire ends together, and then screwing on a wire nut or wrapping the joined part with black electrical tape. Not duct tape. Unless you want to light up like a Christmas tree.

So a comma splice is when we use a comma to splice (or join) two sentences. This is a big no-no.

Here's an example using Pete:

Pete is my 70-pound bulldog, he's afraid of cats.

The problem here is that both clauses are independent, meaning each one can stand alone as a complete sentence with subject and predicate. And when you try to join two independent clauses (two complete sentences) with a comma, the thunder claps, lightening flashes, and the comma-splice gods roar in anger.

So you have a couple of choices.

1.) You can insert a period after bulldog and capitalize He's, making two separate sentences:

Pete is my 70-pound bulldog. He's afraid of cats.

2.) You can use a comma PLUS conjunction (and, but for, nor, or, so, yet) to join the two sentences:

Pete is my 70-pound bulldog, and he's afraid of cats.

(If you need a conjunction refresher, here's one from Schoolhouse Rock. Even if you don't need the refresher, the video will make you smile. I remember watching Saturday morning Looney Tunes when I was a kid and singing along with all the Schoolhouse Rock videos. They were pretty high-tech back then. Don't laugh. You remember them too.)

Or 3.) you can use a semicolon.

Pete is my 70-pound bulldog; he's afraid of cats.

This option is best when the two sentences are closely related. If I said

Pete is my 70-pound bulldog. I like cats.

it would be silly to use a semicolon. The two sentences aren't related. They're best left as two separate sentences.

So a semicolon is a great little tool in your punctuation toolbox that lets you link closely related sentences without angering the comma-splice gods. And that's always a good thing.

It can also be used in a sentence where you are listing a bunch of items that already contain commas, so that adding MORE commas would confuse things. 

This has a lot of commas:

I have appointments on Thursday, May 4, Saturday, May 6, and Monday, May 8.

So you could write it like this just to make sure you avoid confusion:

I have appointments on Thursday, May 4; Saturday, May 6; and Monday, May 8.

Any time you're listing things that contain commas, use semicolons to separate the individual items just to keep things clear.

And that's semicolon use in a nutshell. That wasn't so bad, was it?

Now go forth and fear not the semicolon!


Be thankful ~


Dorothy said...

Thanks so much for the clear semicolon rules. I hope you feel better soon.

Anita said...

Sorry you are so unwell, Karen. I will pray that the doctors find the cause of your illness and afford you some relief very soon. I hope and pray it's not lyme disease.

Thanks for the lesson today. You explained it in an understandable way.

Have a restful Monday!

Kayla said...

;) Lots of fun semi colon humor on this site. The first one I had seen on Facebook.

Kayla said...

I almost forgot. I hope you feel better soon.