ELA 5: Commas and Semicolons

If you're like we were, you're only semi-sure how to use semi-colons. It happens. But never fear. We semi-read a bunch of grammar books and we can totally tell you how to use them now. 

5th GradeLanguage Arts
Elementary and Middle School5th Grade
LanguageEnglish Language

Transcript

00:34

Well, just like those 300 screwdrivers has their purpose, so do the different

00:38

punctuation marks…and it’s very important you don’t mix them up. [Flathead screwdriver appears by a philips screw]

00:42

So today’s lesson is about how to use commas and semicolons. Try not to, uh…screw it up. [Drill screws semi colon]

00:48

One common place to find commas and semicolons is in lists.

00:52

In order to use them in a series, there need to be three or more words or phrases in the sentence.

00:56

Then, before the last word or phrase, we use a conjunction to end the list. [Coop discussing commas and semicolons]

01:00

Common conjunctions include "for," "and," "nor," "or," "yet," "so,” and “but.”

01:08

Yes, we said “but.” Giggle it up.

01:10

When it comes to lists, commas are our default. [Girl typing on a computer]

01:13

Take this sentence: "Emma doesn't like white chocolate spinach or coconut."

01:17

We've got three items in our list – white chocolate, spinach, and coconut –

01:20

so we're ready for some commas.

01:22

All we've gotta do is slip in a comma after each item, except the very last one, which [comma inserted after each item]

01:27

gets a period, and we're done.

01:29

We definitely want to separate these three items because together they would taste terrible. [Girl in the kitchen with white chocolate, spinach, and a coconut]

01:33

Let’s just say that’s the last time we ever let our pet chimp Bobo fix us a smoothie.

01:38

Semicolons can also be useful for lists, but they tend to crop up when we've got commas

01:42

swinging all over the place. Say we're taking a trip from Los Angeles, California, to Phoenix,

01:47

Arizona, to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

01:49

We could try to say: "Next month I'm going to Los Angeles, California, Phoenix, Arizona,

01:53

and Santa Fe, New Mexico." But with all those commas, things are getting, um…a little bit crazy up in there.

01:59

To help clarify the situation, we separate each item with a semicolon instead of a comma. [Locations split with semi colons]

02:04

Commas and semicolons can also be useful in direct address…which works in a few different ways.

02:09

Consider this sentence: "Let's eat Cousin Jimmy." This would be fine if you're suggesting

02:14

cannibalism – okay, well, grammatically fine, maybe not morally fine - but that's

02:19

probably…hopefully… not what you meant. [Boy laughing]

02:21

On the other hand, if we put a comma after eat, now we're doing some direct address.

02:26

addressing "Let's eat" to Jimmy. Basically, we're saying: "Jimmy, it's time to eat."

02:30

Which is much better news for Jimmy. [Jimmy sat at a table with a plate of food]

02:32

We do something similar when we're answering a question that's directly addressed to us.

02:36

Writing "Yes I was at the pool" isn't quite enough. [Girl in a swimming pool]

02:39

The "yes" needs to be followed by a comma, like so:

02:43

The exact same thing happens with exclamations like "well," or "why," or "yikes" or "hey":

02:48

just follow that exclamation with a comma. Like: "Yikes, there’s a bear in my shoe!” [Bear appears from inside a shoe]

02:53

Don’t ask us how it got there. We’re not in the “deciphering impossible situations” business.

02:57

If the direct address is a complete thought, we can use a semicolon instead of a comma.

03:02

Our sentence about the pool is a great candidate for this treatment.

03:05

"Yes" is a complete thought, so we can feel free to use a semicolon instead of a comma.

03:10

What about our sentence with an exclamation? "Yikes” is a vivid, self-contained reaction… [Bear appears from a shoe]

03:14

…so a semicolon fits just fine. Once we know the ins and outs of commas and

03:18

semicolons, we'll always have the right tool for the job. [Man walking and carrying a writing tool box]

03:21

You might even find yourself saying: "Yikes; what a well-placed semicolon!"

03:25

You probably won’t. But you might. [Semi colon falls off the wall]