The second use for Semi-colons

psst…do you want to know how to use a semi-colon? Do you even know what a semi-colon is? It is the one to the left of the L key on your keyboard…yep ;

For years, I have taught that a semi-colon is used to join independent clauses. This is still true. But I would also add in the second piece of information that a semi-colon is use to separate items in a list when those items had commas already.

Like this:

On vacation, I went to Goderich, ON, Sydney, NS, Esterhazy, SK, and Victoria, BC.

Do you see the problem? What I mean to say is I went to Goderich which is in Ontario. Not that I went to Goderich and then Ontario. Because we place a comma between city names and provinces, each item has a comma within it, causing some confusion.

To eliminate this confusion, use a semi-colon like a “super comma” to separate items in a list.

Like this:

On vacation, I went to Goderich, ON; Sydney, NS; Esterhazy, SK; and Victoria, BC.

So, on the weekend, I was answering questions in a What’sApp group and a question came up from a College Board test that was similar to the following.

The purpose of resting the dough can have many factors including allowing the starch molecules to absorb water, which produces a more uniform structure, solidifying the butter, a necessary aspect of flaky pastry, and creating allowing the gluten structure to relax, making the scones tender.

If we break up the list into separate lines, it becomes easier to see what is happening.

The purpose of resting the dough can have many factors including

allowing the starch molecules to absorb water, which produces a more uniform structure,

solidifying the butter, a necessary aspect of flaky pastry, and

creating allowing the gluten structure to relax, making the scones tender.

Each of the reasons has a modifying phrase that follows it. So we need semi-colons to clarify the list.

The purpose of resting the dough can have many factors including allowing the starch molecules to absorb water, which produces a more uniform structure; solidifying the butter, a necessary aspect of flaky pastry; and creating allowing the gluten structure to relax, making the scones tender.

In the past I have shown students this additional use of a semi-colon, but told them that the SAT hasn’t tested this use…I was wrong. You should be familiar with this use of the semi-colon. Watch out for it if you have a long list of phrases that lack parallelism, but the answer choices are not fixing a parallelism problem.

Sharpen your pencils, the College Board is getting tricky.

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