The Guardian today had an interesting article on the possibly imminent demise of the semi-colon in French. It also goes on to suggest that this particular punctuation mark is already dead in English, and it is the Anglo-Saxon influence that’s causing the problem with modern French. I use it quite freely myself, and I’m sure anyone who’s read this site knows I’m rather fond of long sentences. In fact, it’s from re-reading what’s I’ve just typed that leads me to add semi-colons; commas are too weak (and in a long sentence, confusing) and full-stops are too heavy, too much of an end, which isn’t always what you want. I wholeheartedly agree with Michel Volkovitch when he says:
“For constructing a piece properly, distinguishing themes, sections and sub-sections - in short, for dissipating any haziness or imprecision of thought. It puts things in order, it clarifies. But it’s precious, too, for adding a little softness, a little lightness; it can stop a sentence from touching the ground, from grinding to a halt; keeps it suspended, awake. It is a most upmarket punctuation mark.”
I agree with the closing paragraph of the article, too, in that it is the fear of using the semi-colon incorrectly that leads to it not being used. I was never taught how to use it at school, and a quick straw poll of some friends and colleagues today shows that of 12 people, only three were taught to use it. Of course, those three were French. Still, half the people polled did know how to use it, so all is not lost.