Business Writing Tip #194 – The Semi-colon

Many of you may know the semi-colon as the symbol you use when you want to create a winking emoji, like this ;). But the semi-colon serves other purposes.wink emoji

It looks like a comma topped with a full stop. It creates a break, a separation, between ideas, that is stronger than a comma, but less than a full stop (or period, if you are using American English).

Two of the most common uses of the semi-colon are separating items in lists, and joining two sentences.

1. Separating items in lists, when some items in the list contain commas

Normally when we list items in a sentence we separate them with commas.

David, Jan and Christina will attend the presentation.

(Sometimes you will see David, Jan, and Christina will attend the presentation. This is not wrong. It’s just a usage variation.)

But what if we have:

  • David, Jan and Christina from ABC company
  • Ameer, Julia and Mario from XYZ company
  • Rosa, Michael and James from PQR company

And they’re all attending the presentation. We already have commas separating items, but we need to make sure we help our readers by making sure the sentence is clear. Look at:

David, Jan and Christina from ABC company, Ameer, Julia and Mario from XYZ company, and Rosa, Michael and James from PQR company will attend the presentation.

This sentence is ambiguous. We know that Jan and Christina are from ABC company, and Michael and James from PQR, but do we know which company David is from, or Ameer, or Rosa? We can probably make a good guess, but by using semi-colons we help our readers and they do not have to guess.

David, Jan and Christina from ABC company; Ameer, Julia and Mario from XYZ company; and Rosa, Michael and James from PQR company, will attend the presentation.

This sentence groups the people, making it clear which company they are from.

Another example:

The department purchased a colour printer; three PC and two Apple laptops; six new, adjustable desks, and six blue, ergonomic office chairs.

It’s easy to see how many items are in the list, and which words go together.

2. Joining two sentences

Have you heard of an independent clause? It is a group of words that can stand on its own. It is, in fact, a sentence. And sentences end with full stops. But sometimes, we might want to suggest a strong link between two independent clauses, or to put it another way, two sentences.

Example (a)

The purchasing manager placed an additional order today. She ordered new office furniture. Ergonomic chairs and adjustable-height desks were on sale.

This group of sentences is perfectly fine.

Example (b)

But you could write:

The purchasing manager placed an additional order today. She ordered new office furniture; ergonomic chairs and adjustable-height desks were on sale.

This second version suggests that the reason she ordered the furniture today is because these items were on sale.

The other reason we use semi-colons is for style. In example (a), we have three short sentences. Writing a string of short sentences can make the writing feel abrupt, or choppy. Mixing up sentence lengths usually makes writing more interesting to read.

So there you have it. Some information on semi-colons and how to use them. Dust them off and give them a try.

Happy writing.

The Exclamation Mark (or Point if you’re from the US)

One of the sites I subscribe to (Hubspot Blogs) recently posted a great infographic about using exclamation marks, so I decided to share it with you. The original article is about using them on the web, but the same guidance applies in any kind of business writing.

Print

You can find the original Hubspot post here.

Business Writing Tip #152—Four Fixes for Run-on Sentences

In Tip #126 I talked about sentence fragments. Today I want to talk about another sentence problem—run-on sentences. The simplest way to describe these is to say that run-on sentences are sentences that need more punctuation or another word. In most cases they need to be more than one sentence, although in some instances the thoughts might be kept in the same sentence by adding something.  Run-on sentences are sometimes called fused sentences because they fuse multiple sentences together.

Here’s an example.

The committee met on Tuesday to discuss the budget it approved the budget.

This really needs to be two sentences, or to have something added to link the ideas together.

How to Fix Run-On Sentences

There are four ways to fix run-on sentences.

  1. Use a full stop and divide the sentence into two.
  • The committee met on Tuesday to discuss the budget. It approved the budget.
  1. Use a semi-colon to keep more of a link between the two thoughts.
  • The committee met on Tuesday to discuss the budget; it approved the budget.
  1. In some cases you can use a word (a coordinator).
  • The committee met on Tuesday to discuss the budget and it approved the budget.
  • The committee met on Tuesday to discuss the budget but it failed to approve the budget.
  1. And in some cases you can use a conjunction and a semi-colon (note in this example I had to alter the second sentence to make this work).
  • The committee met on Tuesday to discuss the budget; however, it did not approve the budget.

Happy writing.

four fixes for run on sentences

Business Writing Tip #137—Seven Simple Situations that Call for Commas

Way back in tip #27 I talked about commas. I thought it was time for a quick review of when we use commas (download the infographic at the end of this post). For a fuller account of these delightful curls, take a look at Business Writing Tip #27.

  1. Use commas to separate items in a list

This year I travelled to Prague, Berlin and Kutna Hora.

  1. Use commas after the opening and closing greetings in a letter or email

Dear Marketa, . . .

Kind regards, . . .

  1. Use commas after ‘yes’ or ‘no’ at the beginning of a sentence

No thank you, I don’t want another tequila shot. Yes, I would like something to eat now.

  1. Use commas to separate the day and month from the year in dates

30 August, 2014

Saturday, 6 September

  1. Use commas after common introductory words in sentences

Well, I’m not sure this is the way to go.

However, it does seem as though we might get there eventually.

So, what do you think about this route?

  1. Use commas after a person’s name when you are addressing them directly

Dalice, could you please send me an email with a link to the article you mentioned?

Honza, please do your homework.

  1. Use commas when you are quoting, i.e. for direct speech

Honza asked, “When did I ever not complete my homework?’

I replied, “I know. You always do it.”

Happy writing.

7 Simple Situations that Call for Commas 2

Business Writing Tip #122—Comma Splices

If you come from Australia a Splice is a kind of ice-cream on a stick.  It’s made up of ice cream encased in frozen fruit flavoured ice.  pinelime spliceIn grammar the most common splice we talk about is the comma splice.

But before I talk about comma splices, we need to think about independent clauses. What is an independent clause? It is a group of words that can stand on its own. In effect it is a sentence. It doesn’t need anything more; it can stand alone.

For example you might have the following two sentences:

  • The meeting will start at 2 pm tomorrow.
  • It will be in the large conference room on the second floor.

These sentences can each stand alone, but the ideas are related, so you might wish to join them.

Because they are independent clauses, it is regarded as wrong to join them with a comma. This is what is called a comma splice.

  • The meeting will start at 2 pm tomorrow, it will be in the large conference room on the second floor.

To be grammatically correct, if you wish to join them, and you don’t wish to use a coordinating conjunction (remember FANBOYS – for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so), you have three choices:

  • Join them with a semicolon
  • Write two separate sentences
  • Rewrite the clauses so they form one sentence

So the correct sentence will be:

  • The meeting will start at 2 pm tomorrow; it will be in the large conference room on the second floor.
  • The meeting will start at 2 pm tomorrow. It will be in the large conference room on the second floor.
  • The meeting, which will be in the large conference room on the second floor, will start at 2 pm tomorrow.

Another example

Comma splice (incorrect)

  • The photocopier often malfunctions, however management has so far refused to replace it.

Correct

  • The photocopier often malfunctions; however, management has so far refused to replace it.

And another example

Comma splice (incorrect)

  • In 2010 the firm’s profit was up 10 percent from the previous year, by 2013 it had tripled.

Correct

  • In 2010 the firm’s profit was up 10 percent from the previous year. By 2013 it had tripled.

Remember . . .

The rule is that if the two parts of the sentence can stand alone, you need something stronger than a comma to join them.

Happy writing.

Business Writing Tip #90—When to Use Capital Letters

Sometimes people get confused about when to use capital letters in English. Here are some guidelines to help you.

Capitalise:

  • The first word of a sentence.scrabble

This is a blog post about when to use capital letters.

  • Proper nouns; that is the name of a particular place, person or thing

Canberra Times, Prague, Dalice Trost

  • A brand name but not the product

Firestone tyres, Levi jeans, Schweppes soft drinks

  • Holidays, special or famous events, historical periods or eras and famous documents.

Christmas Day, the Middle Ages, the Magna Carta

  • The first person subject pronoun ‘I’. You do this both when it’s by itself or in a contraction.

I went to work early today. I’m now quite tired.

  • Titles (and abbreviations of titles) when the come in front of personal names

Dr Elizabeth Jones, Ms Christine Ashton, Mr David Smith, Captain Corey James

  • The days of the week and the months of the year

Monday, Friday, January, August

  • Words that express family relationships when they are used in place of the person’s name.

Mother asked me to go and buy some bread. Nana said it had to be wholemeal.

Note: These words don’t take capitals when they follow possessive pronouns or definite and indefinite articles. So, my mother, his daughter, the sons and daughters of local families

  • The names of organisations such as businesses, schools, associations and clubs.

Australian National University, LiveTEFL Prague, Albert Supermarket

  • The specific name of buildings and other man-made structures, ships, trains, and planes

Parliament House, the Cutty Sark, the Sydney Opera House, Titanic

  • Capitalise geographic names and places (streets, cities, etc)

Sydney Harbour, Mt Everest, Northbourne Avenue, Prague

  • The names of countries, nationalities, races and languages, and the adjectives derived from them.

France, French, Australia, Indian, English countryside, British English

  • Religions and denominations

Christianity, Islam, Protestant, Buddhism

  • The names of sacred books

The Koran, the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita

  • Directions when they indicate a section of a country or the world, but not when they are indicating a direction

The Middle East, the Pacific Northwest

Business Writing Tip #65—The Dash

In this tip we’re going to look at how to use the dash—or rather, how to use two different dashes.

Did you know that there were two? One is called the m-dash and the other is the n-dash. Strange names you might think. But quite logical. The m-dash takes up the same amount of space as the letter ‘m’ and the n-dash takes up the space of, you guessed it, the letter ‘n’.

How do we choose which one to use?

The m-dash is used to mark a break in a sentence.  Here are some examples of different kinds of breaks where an m-dash is just the thing:

Used in pairs, like parentheses

  • The manager was involved—in fact the prime mover—in the decision to relocate the team.

Used alone to introduce an example of something that came beforeCharles-Bridge-Prague

  • If you’ve been to Prague you must have seen it—nobody misses Charles Bridge.

To introduce an aside by the writer

  • The decision to relocate was made for a range of excellent reasons—and at least we now have more space.

An n-dash really only has one use. It shows sequences.

  • 2012 – 2103
  • A – L and M – Z

Both of these dashes are longer than the hyphen.

Business Writing Tip #64—Parentheses

parenthesesSome people have asked me when they should use parentheses. The main use of parentheses is to show that the words enclosed in them aren’t essential to the meaning of the sentence. They provide additional information. Sometimes it might be information that doesn’t fit into the grammatical structure of the sentence. At other times they are used by writers to make a personal comment.

Here are two examples (taken from Oxford A-Z of Grammar & Punctuation):

He coined the term hypnotism (from the Greek hypnos, meaning ‘sleep’) and practised it frequently.

This is also known as junk email … or spam. Obviously it’s impossible to distribute processed luncheon meat electronically at this time (and hopefully it’ll never happen).

You can also use them to clarify numbers.

The new office furniture will cost about ten thousand dollars ($10,000).

Basically you use parentheses when something you write is a little bit out of place in your sentence. This is particularly used in informal English, perhaps in an email.

I’m heading out now (date night!!), but I’ll phone you to chat about the meeting tomorrow.

Hope this helps.

 

Business Writing Tip #46—Bullets

When you’re using bulleted lists it is important to keep the grammar consistent.bullet

Usually a bulleted list is introduced by a phrase. The text after the bullet should combine with the phrase to form a coherent whole.

On our holiday we

  • Visited the National Museum.
  • Spent time on the beach.
  • Walked in the mountains.
  • Eating lots of good food.
  • Visiting friends.

The last two bullets should read:

  • Ate lots of good food.
  • Visited friends.

You might be talking about an upcoming meeting. At the meeting we are going to discuss

  • The work schedule for the next two weeks.
  • Resource allocation for the new project.
  • Plans for the team building activity next week.

You will often see a colon (:) after the initial phrase. When the text after the bullet combines with that phrase to form a sentence that doesn’t require a colon, don’t use one. Also, put a full stop at the end of each bullet.

Here are two examples of how the bullets work as sentences from the text above.

On our holiday we visited the National Museum.

At the meeting we are going to discuss the work schedule for the next two weeks.

When the phrase introduces a list and the bullets don’t combine with the introductory text to form a sentence, use a colon, and avoid putting a full stop at the end of each bullet.

The successful candidate will have the following qualities:

  • Strong written and oral communication skills
  • Ability to manage own workload
  • Demonstrated decision-making skills

I hope that’s clear. It’s one of writing’s finer points…you will see many variations. In the end It really all comes down to consistency. For me, the rules help…