There are a lot of semicolons hanging around in the options of the ACT English section. Students tend to get really scared about semicolons because it's commonly believed that the semicolon belongs to the realm of 'advanced' grammar, and that only a few specialists who know all the terribly 'complicated' rules applying to the use of this 'mysterious' punctuation mark.

This is very far from the truth. The semicolon is by far one of the easiest punctuation marks to use.

Especially in the ACT, the only function of the semicolon is to separate two independent clauses. As such, it stands instead of a full stop. The choice between full stop and semicolon mainly depends on how closely the two independent clauses are linked thematically. But this really belongs to the field of writing; the only thing you need to know for the ACT is that on both sides of a semicolon you need an independent clause. Not sure what an independent clause is? Read our post The Big Three In The ACT English - Part 2.

Let's have a look at two examples from the ACT test 70G. First, question 3.

When thinking about option B, the only thing you really need to look at is whether or not the punctuation mark is flanked by two independent clauses. If you are confused about the word 'clause', read our blog post Sentences, Clauses, and Phrases.

It is clear that there is no way 'Her statue of Sojourner Truth' is an independent clause: no verb = no clause. Job done; the semicolon is not the right option.

Next, let's have a look at question 55 in the same test. It also has a semicolon in the options.

The approach is again the same: find out whether or not the semicolon separates two independent clauses.

Are there two independent clauses on both sides of the punctuation mark? 'Harvey believed the term "waitress" implied servitude' certainly is an independent clause: it contains a conjugated verb (subject and verb in bold) and does not start with a subordinating conjunction. For the same reasons, 'his staff would offer gracious hospitality' is also an independent clause. The only right option is B. A is nonsense; C is a comma splice; and D just lacks basic punctuation. 

See, no need to be scared about the semicolon. 


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