Making it my business: semicolon skillz & upping your game

Uncertainty plagues Richmond as one reader is insecure in his punctuation knowledge and another stumbles over mastering the delicate dance that is a Friend Crush.


Dear Valerie,

Seriously, how the hell do you use [semicolons]. It’s funny you mentioned grammar in your post because I was talking to [My Beautiful Lady-Friend] about grammar just last night, and she was trying to help me with semicolons but was not sure. Anyway, thanks, they have blown my mind since elementary school.

Puzzled Punctuater

Semicolons are what separate the men from the boys in the world of grammar. They are an odd bird in that you can get away with not using them when you should, but use them when you shouldn’t and everything falls apart.

Before I launch into my explanation as to how to properly use this intimidating punctuation mark, let me share an editor’s trick with you. If you’re ever not sure if you’re punctuating correctly (or capitalizing correctly, etc.), try to rework the sentence into a structure with which you are more comfortable. I get paid to do this stuff and sometime I still get stumped.

In general, semicolons have two uses:

1. Use a semicolon to join two sentences (or independent clauses) more closely than a period. When readers see a period, they often move the sentence they just read to the back of their minds and move on to the next. A semicolon indicates a close relationship between two thoughts. That relationship can vary from a complete contrast to a cause-effect relationship between the clauses. For example…

I’m so excited. Someone commented on my last Project Runway post.

The period in the first sentence is so final, and the capitalization of the next thought minimizes the connection. Instead, you can do this:

I’m so excited; someone commented on my last Project Runway post.

2. Semicolons can also be used to make a stronger division between items in a list already containing punctuation. I love this use because it’s all about clarity. Look here…

Ross has lived in such exotic places as Salvador, Brazil, Brussels, Belgium, and Wilmington, Delaware.

That sentence is such a mess! Luckily, the semicolon is here to clean house…

Ross has lived in such exotic places as Salvador, Brazil; Brussels, Belgium; and Wilmington, Delaware.

See, kids? It’s simple. But, remember, when it doubt, find another way to write the sentence so you don’t use the semicolon incorrectly. Kind of like how I use a synonym when I don’t know how to spell the first word I was thinking of.

Dear Valerie,

What’s some advice for when you meet a new person that you want to be friends with? How do you ask them to hang out without seeming creepy?

Amorous Amigo

We’ve all been here, AA. You meet a person that you know will be your BFF if you can just get them to hang out with you and realize how awesome you are. I would argue that this is more stressful than your standard crush because there are no specific mores to dictate your behavior. And thanks to the Internets, we have lots of ways to innocently track the comings and goings of our friend-crushes. Don’t use them. That’s creepy.

I’m looking at two possible scenarios here: 1) You know the person through someone else or 2) You happened upon them, like you would a pot ‘o’ gold at the end of a rainbow.

Scenario #1 is undoubtedly easier to deal with. Let your shared acquaintances know that you think your new Friend-Love is charming/smart/hilarious and should be invited to your next hang out. Once your current friends know that more fun can be added to the bunch, they’ll more than likely do the dirty work for you. I’ve had many a great friendship start because someone has told Ross to bring me along somewhere because she thought we’d have a good time. Remember, when Friend-Love arrives, make sure you say “I’m stoked you came to hang out,” but only once. Or maybe more if you’ve had some beers, but by then nobody cares.

As far as scenario #2, go big or go home, as I always say (which I do, ask anyone). You’re funny! You’re witty! You’re enough! Who wouldn’t want to hang out with you? Particularly, who wouldn’t want to hang out with you when they already know that you think they’re great? My point is, don’t be afraid of freaking them out with your enthusiasm, but do be careful about how you approach arranging the next interaction. Mention an impending group hang out that you think they would enjoy, offer to text them with the details (texting is much less intrusive than an actual person-to-person phone call), and most importantly, follow through – nobody likes a flake. Nobody. If Friend-Love doesn’t respond, DO NOT text them again. That’s sure to get you a big fat DENY when you ask to be their myspace friend and, frankly, I’m not sure any of us can take that kind of rejection.

(Have a burning question or just something your mildly curious about? Send inquiries to

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Valerie Catrow

Valerie Catrow is editor of RVAFamily, mother to a mop-topped first grader, and always really excited to go to bed.

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