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Grammar Quiz #3: Weak-Period Semicolons

All but one of the following sentences incorrectly employs or omits a semicolon; revise sentences as necessary to demonstrate correct use of punctuation:

1. In 2000, the figure was 57 percent; in 2004, 63 percent.

2. We have come this far, we can’t give up now.

3. Sometimes she was willing to share these with the class and to read aloud, sometimes she wanted to remove herself from class discussions.

4. He understands diffusion, osmosis, facilitated diffusion, concentration gradients, pores, and pumps; all processes essential to understanding life systems.

5. This number includes shimmering salmon blocked from their upriver migration in the Northwest; and the ancient sturgeon that once spawned in thirty-five coastal rivers from Maine to Florida and is now confined to two.

Answers and Explanations

Semicolons serve one of two functions: They separate two independent clauses in a sentence when no conjunction links the clauses, and they separate items in run-in lists when at least one of the items is itself a list or otherwise includes a comma. Each of these sentences either requires a semicolon in place of a comma because the punctuation separates independent clauses, or it has a semicolon that should be a comma because the clauses are not independent:

1.
Original: In 2000, the figure was 57 percent; in 2004, 63 percent.
Correct : In 2000, the figure was 57 percent; in 2004, 63 percent.

When a sentence consists of two parallel independent clauses but the repetition of part of the second clause is omitted because the elided phrase is implied, a semicolon should still be used despite the fact that the second clause appears not to be independent. This sentence, in which repetition of the phrase “the figure was” has been omitted between the second year and the second percentage, is correct.

2.
Original: We have come this far, we can’t give up now.
Correct : We have come this far; we can’t give up now.

3.
Original: Sometimes she was willing to share these with the class and to read aloud, sometimes she wanted to remove herself from class discussions.
Correct : Sometimes, she was willing to share these with the class and to read aloud; sometimes, she wanted to remove herself from class discussions.

4.
Original: He understands diffusion, osmosis, facilitated diffusion, concentration gradients, pores, and pumps; all processes essential to understanding life systems.
Correct : He understands diffusion, osmosis, facilitated diffusion, concentration gradients, pores, and pumps, all processes essential to understanding life systems.

5.
Original: This number includes shimmering salmon blocked from their upriver migration in the Northwest; and the ancient sturgeon that once spawned in thirty-five coastal rivers from Maine to Florida and is now confined to two.
Correct : This number includes shimmering salmon blocked from their upriver migration in the Northwest and the ancient sturgeon that once spawned in thirty-five coastal rivers from Maine to Florida and is now confined to two.

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Original post: Grammar Quiz #3: Weak-Period Semicolons

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