Semicolons vs. Commas

An e-mail exchange from April 2000 with the editor of the Chicago Manual of Style.

MLA 5.32 says that if coordinate clauses contain commas, semicolons may be used in lieu of customary commas for separation of the clauses. Likewise for clarity, as I was taught in high school, aren’t semicolons permissible when the clauses are simply lengthy? Such clauses do not necessarily contain commas of their own.

A: Yes. As we say in 5.93, “If the clauses of a compound sentence are very long . . . a semi-colon may be used.”

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this Johnathan. Semicolons are very useful for long lists as well, and I've been trying to encourage my students to use them more often. I built this guide to using the semicolon and colon. Any feedback would be appreciated.