How Do You Take The In Of Something In Math When Should I Use a Comma and When Should I Use a Semicolon?

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When Should I Use a Comma and When Should I Use a Semicolon?

“Comma? Semicolon? Aaargh!! I’ll just pick one…I guess I have a 50% chance of getting it right.”

Does that sound like you? If so, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s raise your average.

Did you know you can hear the difference?

The first thing I like about commas and semicolons is the *sound* of them. Commas are a pause with an invitation to continue, while semicolons are a period. You will be able to hear the difference. Read the following sentences aloud, paying attention to the sound of the sentence just where the punctuation mark appears:

  • [CORRECT] In high school I was sure of my academic strengths; the daughter and younger sister of doctors, I excelled in math and science and dreaded every English course I was forced to take.
  • [CORRECT] I took a wide variety of classes, from psychology and sociology to business and criminal justice, hoping to find something, whether it was a specific class or topic, that captured my interest. Dr. Evil makes some grammatical mistakes
  • [CORRECT] Addison’s disease is a chronic adrenal insufficiency that causes liver failure, kidney failure, effusions and, in some cases, death; I was determined not to kill my brother.

You can hear how your bending is going up with each comma, i downward with every semicolon? The upward inflection of the comma makes us think that there is something more to come. It’s almost a little. The sound of a semicolon, on the other hand, is often the same sound that comes along with a period. It is more final with a downward inflection. If you didn’t get it the first time, go ahead and re-read the previous sentences until you get it.

Why is it useful to know what a punctuation mark sounds like? It allows you to read your sentence aloud and determine if you have chosen correctly. If you have a semicolon in your sentence, but the inflection sounds correct going up, you already know to change it to a comma. And vice versa.

Also, on a more basic level, if you find yourself pausing and inflecting up and yet you don’t have a comma, add one! Here is an example:

  • [INCORRECT] I have learned a lot about myself and my abilities throughout my career.

See how you want to pause and inflect up after “abilities” because of the comma after “myself”? Add a comma!

  • [CORRECT] I have learned a lot about myself and my abilities throughout my career.

Or just remove the comma after “myself” and the inflection changes:

  • [CORRECT] I have learned a lot about myself and my abilities throughout my career.

One more example:

  • [INCORRECT] Although I had many successful closings, there were always some that were unsuccessful.

Why put a comma after “Although” when you don’t stop there when you speak?

  • [CORRECT] Although I had many successful closings, there were always some that were unsuccessful.

How many sentences are there in this sentence?

Semicolons are the appropriate punctuation marks when you want to connect two strings of words that could stand alone as complete sentences, but are so closely related that you want to make them part of the same sentence. The first and third examples demonstrate this usage. You can see that the following can be sentences on their own:

  • In high school I was confident in my academic strengths.
  • Daughter and younger sister of doctors, I excelled in math and science.

When you put a comma between two sentences, it’s called a “comma splice” and it’s the wrong way to use a comma! The following is an INCORRECT use of a comma:

  • [INCORRECT] In high school I was confident in my academic strengths, excelling in math and science.

Do you see how each of the two parts of the sentence can stand on its own?

  • In high school I was confident in my academic strengths.
  • I excelled in math and science.

You can fix a comma splice in one of three ways:

  1. Replace the comma with a period:
  • [CORRECT] In high school I was confident in my academic strengths. I excelled in math and science.

2. Add a coordinating conjunction after the comma:

  • [CORRECT] In high school I was confident in my academic strengths and excelled in math and science.

3. If the sentences are closely related, as they are here, replace the comma with a semicolon:

  • [CORRECT] In high school I was sure of my academic strengths; I excelled in math and science.

Conversely, if you have two parts of your sentence that do NOT stand alone, it is INCORRECT to connect them with a semicolon. Here are two examples of INCORRECT use of a semicolon:

  • [INCORRECT] Finally, you can turn all those Facebook friends into something useful; spread the word about your skills, experience and the big contract you’d make.

You can see that while the first part of this sentence is a sentence (“You can finally turn all those Facebook friends into something useful”), the second part of the sentence is NOT a sentence (“Spread your skills, experience and what a great hire you would make.”).

If you use your ear here, you will hear the difference. Read the sentences aloud and you will hear an upward inflection after the word “useful.” What does this upward flexion indicate? You got it. A comma

Here is the correctly punctuated sentence:

  • [CORRECT] Finally, you can turn all those Facebook friends into something useful by spreading the word about your skills, experience, and what a great hire you would be.

Cheat sheet:

Upward inflection = comma

Down inflection = semicolon

Sentences stand alone = semicolon

Sentences do not stand alone = comma

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