about that semicolon
A while back I wrote about reading the book Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss. The book was both fun to read and informative. As a one who takes writing seriously, I paid close attention both to Lynne’s arguments and her prescriptions. I had to quibble with her when it came to semicolons, however.
She offers the following as examples of correct usage:
It was the Queen’s birthday on Saturday; nevertheless, she had no post whatever.
Jim woke up in his own bed; however, he felt great.
Now far be it from me to argue with the critically acclaimed author of a book that was a bestseller on both sides of the Atlantic, but to my eye both of these are wrong. From the first time I learned about semicolons, probably in elementary school, I was taught that a semicolon connected two independent clauses. Adding “nevertheless” and “however” and making each second clause dependent means that a semicolon is not called for here.
Correct would be:
It was the Queen’s birthday on Saturday, nevertheless, she had no post whatever.
Jim woke up in his own bed, however, he felt great.
It was the Queen’s birthday on Saturday; she had no post whatever.
Jim woke up in his own bed; he felt great.
Truss says clearly in her preface that she made no changes to the book, written with an eye to British English, for the American edition. So I will simply chalk this up as one of the differences between British and American English.
I don’t often use the semicolon; when I do use a semicolon it connects two independent clauses.