2

Which one is correct? Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think the context matters. I've heard that "if the sentence cant stand on its own, the semi-colon isn't needed", but I frankly can't tell if this adage applies here.

I want to emphasize that this doesn't exist, it's just one that I thought of.

Or

I want to emphasize that this doesn't exist; it's just one that I thought of.

1
  • 1
    Sorry to say that's a very bad example. In the context of the Question, either suggestion is equally acceptable. In grammar, neither truly works. Where did you hear 'if the sentence can't stand on its own, the semi-colon isn't needed and what did that mean to you? In reality, 'if the sentence can stand on its own, the semi-colon isn't needed…' Does the difference make sense? Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 22:58

4 Answers 4

6

Semicolons are optional punctuation marks used to join complete sentences in place of a period.

To restate your proposition without the negatives, semicolons connect complete sentences that are closely connected. If there is only one sentence and one clause — something that can’t stand on its own — then a comma is used to connect them.

In your example, you have two complete sentences. You can join them with a semicolon since ‘this’ and ‘it’ are presumably referring to the same thing. You can also use a period.

1
  • This answer would be clearer if it spelled out what ‘optional’ meant in this case, i.e. what the options are. In particular, if the clauses do form complete sentences, then a semicolon is one option; AIUI, a full stop is another, along with a question mark, exclamation mark, dash, and maybe a colon; but a comma is not.
    – gidds
    Commented Apr 4, 2023 at 17:54
4

I strongly agree with @GentlePurpleRain's comment. Use of a comma in the first sentence is a comma splice. These two phrases are each too strong to be joined by a comma. Comma splices are all too common these days, and spreading like a plague. I suspect it's because punctuation isn't really taught to students these days, or emphasized as important. It's like putting ketchup on everything because that's all you can think of to buy.

4
  • 1
    There's surely more to it than just less teaching of "correct" punctuation. If that's all it was, you'd expect the "incorrect" punctuation to be random or missing entirely, not following specific patterns like "comma splicing". I suspect the main reason why many people like to join sentences like these with a comma is that the pause that one would typically make when speaking them is (approximately) the same as e.g. in "…this doesn't exist, but…", where a comma would be conventionally correct. It's not a full "period-length" pause, unless of course you deliberately make one there for emphasis. Commented Apr 4, 2023 at 9:02
  • … In fact, I'd argue that at least part of the cause is that English lacks an appropriate conjunction for joining these sentences, so people just splice them together without one, relying on intonation and timing instead. (Technically you could use e.g. "but rather", but it's rather awkwardly verbose.) In any case, languages do change and that includes punctuation rules. If enough people consistently use comma splices for long enough, even the staunchest prescriptive grammarians must eventually give in (or go to their graves clutching their grammar books). Commented Apr 4, 2023 at 11:01
  • @Ilmari Karonen I don't know if I'd expect it to be random. Sticking in a comma is the easiest thing to do, so some naturally do it, then others follow suit and it goes viral. The appropriate conjunctions for joining these phrases are the various forms of punctuation. You make a good point that many people just write the way they speak. Maybe it's writing that's not taught, which is different from speaking. A comma, a colon, a semicolon, a dash, each convey a certain "type" of pause, and each has it's own nuance.
    – Craig M
    Commented Apr 4, 2023 at 16:07
  • And many use a comma splice even when a conjunction word exists, e.g. "I didn't get milk, the store was closed." "Because" will work there. Or, as in the first example, the phrases don't need to be joined, and shouldn't. Each is a sentence. Someone mentioned Dickens, and you can also read Austen, Emerson, and many others to see a time when people had a mastery of punctuation and so much more. In Austen I've seen exotic punctuation like ":-" which she used a lot. Which goes to your point about it all just being a matter of convention anyway, and common usage becomes prescribed usage over time.
    – Craig M
    Commented Apr 4, 2023 at 16:14
3

I want to emphasize that this doesn't exist. It's just one that I thought of.

This is possible and makes sense, so you are dealing with two complete sentences.

There used to be (and maybe still are, I'm not sure) schools of writing teaching that in such a case, you can't join them with a comma; only a semicolon is acceptable.

Truth is, you can use either a comma or a semicolon. However, the two aren't completely freely interchangeable. A semicolon feels formal and "proper", while a comma gives a more casual vibe. You should generally pick the one than fits the style you're writing in, using the other would be jarring. (See what I'm doing here?)

If you don't have two complete sentences that can stand on their own, such as...

Truth is. You can use either a comma or a semicolon.

 - Yeah, this doesn't work. "Truth is" is not a complete sentence.

...then it's not that a semicolon isn't needed, it's that you can't join them with a semicolon, you have to use a comma there.

1
  • 6
    I disagree that a comma is acceptable here. It's certainly commonly seen, but incorrect. Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 17:53
0

As a general rule: rephrase it … if you are in doubt.

Let‘s view your question from the perspective of conveying drama, not grammar. Here are some variations, which might also help to understand, what should be said logically in your text or from its context. You may want to read out loud for this purpose. Follow the fine nuances of what is said and how it changes the scene.

  • I want to emphasize that this doesn't exist, it's just one that I thought of.

  • I want to emphasize that this doesn't exist; it's just one that I thought of.

  • I want to emphasize that this doesn't exist: it's just one that I thought of.

  • I want to emphasize that this doesn't exist—it's just one that I thought of.

  • I want to emphasize that this doesn't exist. It‘s just one that I thought of.

  • I want to emphasize that this doesn't exist! It’s just one that I thought of!

  • I want to emphasize that this doesn't exist? It’s just one that I thought of?

  • I want to emphasize that this doesn't exist, and it's just one that I thought of.

  • I want to emphasize that this doesn't exist, hence it's just one that I thought of.

  • I want to emphasize that this doesn't exist, while it's just one that I thought of.

  • I want to emphasize that this doesn't exist, unless it's just one that I thought of.

  • I want to emphasize that this doesn't exist. Remember, it's just one that I thought of.

1
  • Would you have used an em dash if it had been available on your keyboard, as in "I want to emphasize that this doesn't exist—it's just one that I thought of"? Commented Apr 4, 2023 at 14:12

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.