This post is part of the Writing is Like Metaphor Series.
Often, my students are not sure how to use semicolons correctly when they come into the classroom. Once they’ve learned, it’s as if they want to make up for lost time and throw them into every other sentence. It’s fun to see them learn to use a new writing tool, but you know the old saying: “when all you have is a hammer, everything’s a nail.”
In order to help my students think about when and where to use semicolons, I compare them to jewelry.
Jewelry is nice. When worn in a way that suits you well and fits your style, it can be classy. But if you put on all of the jewelry you own at the same time, you tip over into flashy. When you wear jewelry, you want people to notice it but not dwell on it. You want the jewelry to complement your look, not erase you.
Wearing too much jewelry can backfire. You put it on to make sure that people notice you, but instead all they notice is your jewelry. You vanish behind the glitz.
Semicolons work the same way. You dress your paper up in them to get people to notice your style and good taste, but when you use too many, they can’t focus on what you’re saying anymore. All they see is your bling.
Photo used and adapted with Creative Commons license from Flickr user pumpkincat210