A Punctuation Question

As I’ve been reading Richard Matheson’s What Dreams May Come, I’ve come across some punctuation habits that have been throwing me. I’m sure I’ve seen the following use of the semicolon in other books and stories, but it’s standing out in this novel.

Here are a couple of examples:

“I wondered what my own appearance was; knowing that Albert wouldn’t tell me if it was unpleasant in any way.”


“The chilling sensation again; the hint of ‘another place.'”

Wouldn’t commas suffice here, or are these semicolons used for rhetorical effect, making for a stronger pause? Or something completely different?


4 thoughts on “A Punctuation Question

  1. I wasn’t a fan of the book, but I was definitely in the minority of the class which read it. And I have to say, his semicolon use drove me crazy, too. They tend to trip me up and not be one of my favorite things anyway, but using them like this gives me grammar hives. 😉

    • I have mixed feelings about the novel; it’s not as strong as I Am Legend.

      As far as semicolon use: I’m beginning to think it may be meant as a rhetorical pause, his use much like that in 19th century novels that seem to use semicolons almost indiscriminately, even after dashes. But 19th century novelists (I’m generalizing here) were taught writing meant to be read aloud.

  2. If I saw that in a student paper, I’d mark it as wrong. I recognize that punctuation use varies over time and across cultures, but it’s not the way we use semicolons today!

    • I agree. And this is contemporary (1978) fiction. The only thing I can imagine is that there is some obscure semicolon rule somewhere.

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