Semicolons

Perhaps because they’re aware that I’ve had occasion to consider punctuation, some readers contacted me about the February 18 New York Times article about use of a semicolon in a New York City Transit subway placard.

Here’s the one thought that came to mind: In contracts, I use semicolons between integrated enumerated clauses when they’re preceded by a colon and between tabulated enumerated clauses; between the elements of a compound section heading; and between two “stacked” integrated definitions in a single defined-term parenthetical. Otherwise, I don’t use them.

For one thing, I’ve dispensed with archaisms that are traditionally associated semicolons, such as provided, however, that, and use of WHEREAS in recitals.

And more generally, semicolons are creatures of nuance—less than a period, more than a comma. A contract isn’t the place for nuance.

But fans of semicolons shouldn’t despair: even with the limited use I put them to, my contracts still end up containing quite a few of them.

About the author

Ken Adams is the leading authority on how to say clearly whatever you want to say in a contract. He’s author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, and he offers online and in-person training around the world. He’s also chief content officer of LegalSifter, Inc., a company that combines artificial intelligence and expertise to assist with review of contracts.