“The semicolon is your friend”

From an amusing list of pet peeves posted by a writing teacher:

In my ten years of composition instruction, I have developed a set of pet peeves associated with the body of student writing I have read. Any of my students reading this should keep in mind that I do not direct this at any particular student — this list is a synthesis of common writing errors that I often find in student papers at every grade level 6-12 and every academic level, including Honors or AP.


Run-ons, comma splices, and fragments. Subject+verb+complete thought=sentence. Commas cannot join independent clauses. Independent clauses cannot simply be mashed together either. Let me introduce you to the semicolon. He is your friend.

No question about it: the semicolon is my friend.

“Connecting words”

Vincennes University has posted the shortest and simplest explanation of the current rules for using “connecting words” (or conjunctions) that I’ve seen. Extremely helpful.

The easiest category of connecting words to learn is the coordinating conjunctions or “FANBOYS“: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so.

Vincennes writes: “These words are found between independent clauses and require only a comma in front of them.”

An independent clause, as I’m sure you remember (!), is a complete sentence in and of itself. An independent clause has:

An independent clause does not have:

  • a “dependent marker word” at the beginning [“I ate breakfast” is a complete sentence. “When I ate breakfast” is not a complete sentence.]

The FANBOYS connect two or more independent clauses with a comma before the FANBOYS:

I woke up, and I ate breakfast.

I || woke up.
PREDICATE: woke up

I || ate breakfast.
PREDICATE: ate breakfast


I was tired, so I went to bed.
I || was tired, so I || went to bed.
I [SUBJECT] || was tired, [VERB] so I [SUBJECT] || went [VERB] to bed.

I was annoyed, but I didn’t say anything.
I || was annoyed, but I || didn’t say anything.
I [SUBJECT] || was annoyed, [VERB] but I [SUBJECT] || didn’t [VERB] say anything.


NOTE: I suspect that many or most college professors would prefer that you not begin a complete sentence with a FANBOYS. However, I use FANBOYS at the beginning of complete sentences, as do many other writers. Using for, and, nor, but, or, yet, (or) so to begin a sentence is usually (though not always!) a more informal way of writing, so you may want to avoid it in college papers.

To be continued…

I’m including a link to the Vincennes page at the bottom of this page under the categories “Punctuation” and “Commas.” You’ll always be able to find it there.

Richard Nordquist defines “clause
Identifying Independent and Dependent Clauses (OWL)
Clauses (Richard Nordquist at about.com)
The Main Clause (chompchomp)
Dependent Clauses: Adverbial, Adjectival, Nominal (Towson)
Clauses and Sentences (Internet Grammar of English)