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Punctuation explained

Punctuation explained

The semi-colon is to punctuation marks as your least favourite food is to you: to be avoided at all costs. Hopefully, this short article will explain what the semi-colon does and how you can use it effectively in your legal writing.

We have a vague idea where to put a comma and we definitely know where to put a period or full stop but semi-colons are awkward, aren't they? Where do we put them? Why do they exist? Should I use them or just put a comma there? Let's see if we can help.

The semi-colon can help you to connect ideas with a logical connection within a sentence so that you don't have to write two sentences or use and. Take a look at the sentence below:

"We can go to the law library to look up the case; the librarian will help us."

This sentence is made up of two independent clauses which could be separate sentences but by placing a semi-colon there we can show our mastery of the English language and help the sentence flow.

Notice that you do not need to capitalise the first letter after a semi-colon as it is all in the same sentence.

Long lists

Semi-colons may also be used when you write a long list that is complicated for the reader. Take a look at the example below:

"In this lesson, we will be taking a look at the cases of Donoghue v Stevenson, which as you know is a landmark case in tort law; Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball Company because of its impact on the law of contract; and Hopkins v Monroe for a laugh."

In this sentence, the semi-colons are used to separate the cases while commas are used to add a little more information about why the tutor is talking about each case.

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