Whoever had been underrating the semi colon needed to listen to the presidential election tribunal justices on Wednesday. That was the day they delivered judgement in the cases of Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi versus Bola Tinubu. In one of the issues raised against his victory, the opposition said the feat was null and void because Tinubu did not score 25 per cent of the votes cast in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja – as allegedly stipulated by the Constitution.
But the tribunal saw the matter differently. It held that what the clause meant was not that anyone who failed to score 25 per cent of votes in Abuja could not be declared winner once they fulfilled righteousness in other areas. Particularly, the court said the use of a semi colon in the statement below showed Abuja was not more important than any other state in the country:
“A candidate for an election to the office of President shall be deemed to have been duly elected where, there being more than two candidates for the election, he has the highest number of votes cast at the election; and must have nothing less than one-quarter of the votes cast at the election in each of at least two-thirds of all the States in the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja.” – Section 134 (2) of the CFRN 1999.
As far as the legal matter is concerned, this is the much we can say in this class. Our concern is how important punctuation marks became even in deciding a presidential case. The lesson is that they are not in languages for fun. All of them must always be duly applied because a misuse can cause an unimaginable damage. Interestingly, this is also relevant in social media posts in which many enjoy using the punctuation marks upside down. What if, one day, your post becomes a subject matter in a law court and it will be the saviour or albatross? Just don’t say I didn’t warn you!
In the case of semi colons, we have discussed it more than once on this platform. Is there anything that need be said again, then? Yes. Here are five errors you are likely to commit whenever using it:
Mixing its symbol with that of a comma or colon.
Some people cannot differentiate between the symbols of the semi colon and that of a comma or colon. As a result, they feature the mark when they do not intend to. The symbol is (;), the one that puts a full stop atop a comma. On the other hand, here are the comma’s and colon’s: (,) and (:).
Using the semi colon to list items
This is also wrong but experts, especially markers of major exams, will note that it is not an uncommon occurrence. We use a comma to list items while the semi colon is normally used to link two or more related independent clauses:
I saw a soldier; a policeman; a teacher and two students at the venue. (Wrong)
I saw a soldier, a policeman, a teacher and two students at the venue. (Correct)
Starting the word that follows the semi colon with a capital letter
This is an error usually committed by those who do not know the difference between a full stop and a semi colon. Although both usually come at the end of clauses and what at times pass for sentences, the full stop is stronger than the semi colon. After a full stop, the next expression begins with a capital letter. But in the case of the semi colon, the next word starts with a small letter because the adjoining clause is still part of the sentence it is working in. The second clause starts with a capital letter only if the initial word is a proper noun:
I like ripe mangoes. They are usually very sweet. (Correct)
I can’t attend to them again; They are late. (Wrong)
I can’t attend to them again; they are late. (Correct)
I cant’ attend to them again. They are late. (Correct)
Using the semi colon to join a word or phrase to the first clause:
This too borders on not knowing the difference between the punctuation mark and other related ones. While you can use a comma to join a phrase to a clause, and a colon to such, it is often inappropriate to apply the semi colon in the context:
I will be in Port Harcourt tomorrow; latest by 5pm. (Wrong)
I will be in Port Harcourt tomorrow, latest by 5pm. (Correct)
I will be in Port Harcourt tomorrow – latest by 5pm. (Correct)
There is something we have still not discussed; logistics. (Wrong)
There is something we have still not discussed: logistics. (Correct)
Discarding the semi colon in structures with a series of commas.
You need the semi colon to achieve clarity especially where the clauses in the series include explanatory or appositional ones:
Among those present are the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr Gbenga Omotoso, the Commissioner for Health, Professor Akin Abayomi, their counterpart in the Ministry of Justice, Moyosore Onigbanjo (SAN), and three Special Advisers. (Confusing)
Among those present are the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr Gbenga Omotoso; the Commissioner for Health, Professor Akin Abayomi; their counterpart in the Ministry of Justice, Moyosore Onigbanjo (SAN); and three Special Advisers. (Correct)