Clauses & the intimidating Semi-colon

Clauses & the intimidating Semi-colon

A Lesson by Enjoy

I initially wanted to write this only on the semi-colon and its usage, but I feel now like I must explain clauses first to `set up` the lesson.


Lesson 02: Clauses & the intimidating Semi-colon
by Caleb `Enjoy` Boese

A clause has two forms: independent and dependent. An independent clause is a phrase that has all the necessary parts to be a sentence and expresses a complete thought. 

Ryan went to the mall.

The subject, `Ryan,` did the verb `to go` [past tense] to the topic, the `mall.` It is self-contained and doesn't depend on any other part of a phrase, thus being "independent." See how this is starting to make sense?

A dependent clause is something that requires another part of a phrase to complete the thought, though it has all the parts to be a sentence. It presents an incomplete thought.

Since Ryan went to the mall

See how this seems to hang, expecting more to come? The thought was not finished, and it hurts me to see it, so let's finish it.

Since Ryan went to the mall, Casey robbed him.

Wow, what a twist! Ryan is such a nice guy, too. Dependent clauses can oft be identified by specific words that occur commonly where they arise:

as, after, before, until, once, since, while, when, whenever (relating to time)

where, wherever (relating to place)

although, though, despite (acknowledging contradictions)

if, even if, even though, how, unless, whether (acknowledging contingencies)

because, in order to, why (examining cause and effect)

who, which, that (relative pronouns)

excerpted from 

Now that we've established just exactly what the differences are between the types of clauses, we can get on to my favourite part: tackling that evil, evil semi-colon.

To some, he is a beacon of fear; to most he's winking. 
A semi-colon serves two main purposes in life: to assist with nested lists and deal with linking independent clauses. Since nested lists are a much easier concept let's start with this.

Often times it arises that you might need to state something with a list, and sometimes the list items might be lists themselves. To avoid a horrid conflagration of commas, we must use semi-colons and commas in conjunction to aid us in clarification.

My favourite cities are: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada; Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada and New York, New York, USA.
[although I would like to point out that city names are not lists in themselves, I hope you can see that anything delimited by commas inside a list would fall under the term `nested lists.` It's just such a cute term that I must use it regardless of correctness]

Also, to see how the semi-colon helps, here's the same sentence with that conflagration I was talking about.

My favourite cities are: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada and New York, New York, USA.

He's burning cities with commas. Fear the winking man.
If you don't get the joke, get a dictionary and look up conflagration.

The second main purpose for a semi-colon is, as I've said before, to deal with linking independent clauses. If you have two complete thoughts that you want linked, you can do so with a semi-colon. Of course, you could always skip that and write complete simple sentences and never get into conjoining them, but hey-- You're an aspiring writer and you want to use all the tools available to you! Plus, they look fancy.

Anyways, digressions aside, let's see this in action, shall we?

Ryan went to the mall in search of a bargain; there are many stores there with great deals.

However, the semi-colon should only be used to link clauses when they are `equal.` It's hard to explain this properly. Of course, you can use a colon when you have unequal sentences, such as this example:

Ryan went to the mall in search of a bargain: he always knew how to find a good deal.

Again, hard to explain but hopefully you've grasped the concept a little stronger than before.

Punctuation and arson are nothing to fear for a learned student  of grammar!

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Added on July 18, 2011
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Brandon, Manitoba, Canada

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