TOEFL iBT Grammar: The semi-colon versus the comma

Spread the love

As you complete the integrated and independent writing tasks, you want to show 1) that you have good syntactic variety and 2) that you can eliminate most sentence structure and grammatical errors in your writing.  Furthermore, having good control of your punctuation can help you accomplish these two objectives.  Therefore, understanding and using semi-colons and commas correctly during your TOEFL writing tasks will help you to score higher.

The Semi-Colon

The most common usage of the semi-colon is to separate two closely-related independent clauses:

The reading passage discusses the dangers of nuclear energy; moreover, the listening passage presents an example to further illustrate the concept.

In this example, a period could have been placed after “energy,” but the semicolon denotes a closer relationship between the independent clauses.

Another less common usage of the semicolon is to use it to separate items in a series in which internal punctuation is already used.

In order for students to succeed on the TOEFL exam, several important practices must be followed over an extended period of time: reading magazines, books, and newspapers for 45 minutes daily; finding opportunities to speak to native speakers on a daily basis; and getting in the habit of taking notes on reading and listening passages and using those notes to give 60 second oral summaries and 250 word written responses.

In this example, the semicolon is used to separate three ideas after the independent clause since the first idea–“reading books, magazines, and newspapers”–already contains internal commas.

The Comma

A common use of the comma is to separate two sentences joined by a coordinating conjunction:

The reading passage discusses the dangers of nuclear energy, and the listening passage presents an example to further illustrate the concept.

Note that the comma precedes the coordinating conjunction “and”.

Another common use of the comma is to separate items in a series:

In order for students to succeed on the TOEFL exam, several important practices must be followed over an extended period of time: reading extensively for 45 minutes daily, finding opportunities to speak to native speakers on a daily basis, and getting in the habit of taking notes on reading and listening passages and using those notes to give 60 second oral summaries and 250 word written responses.

In this example, the first item mentioned does not already contain internal punctuation, so the comma is used to separate the ideas.

Further Study

Now that you have a basic understanding of the semi-colon and the comma, find reading passages and pay attention to when writers are using these two punctuation marks.  Observe how the rules explained in this article are put into play in those reading passages. What additional uses of the semi-colon and the comma can you find in those reading passages?

Write some of the sentences you are reading into a grammar journal so you can review the uses of these and other common punctuation marks. Remember the main objective of learning how to use punctuation is not only why but how writers use punctuation to help readers navigate through the complexities of reading passages.

Good luck!

Michael Buckhoff, mbuckhoff@aol.com

http://onlinetoelflcourse.com