2

Which of the following is correct?

  1. This not only produces higher success rates, it increases our energy and morale instead of depleting them.
  2. This not only produces higher success rates; it increases our energy and morale instead of depleting them.
7

The comma is correct.

The semicolon would be correct if the first clause was a complete sentence, but it is not. It includes "not only," which calls for a linking word, such as "also." ("This not only produces higher success rates, it also increases....")

If you were to leave out "not only," the semicolon would become correct (but you would also lose the comparison you are trying to convey).

  • Or if you wanted to retain the semicolon and the comparison, you could change "This not only produces" to something like "This doesn't just produce." – Sven Yargs Feb 27 '13 at 0:32
  • @SvenYargs Well, I see what you're going for, but I would still be uncomfortable with the semicolon. "Doesn't just produce" is really a version of "not only produces." Break it down, and you can see this more easily: "Doesn't just produce" equals "does not just (only) produce." Its syntactical effect is exactly the same. "Doesn't just" SEEMS more complete, but it really isn't; using that version, I would still want to say, "This doesn't just produce higher success rates, it also increases...." – John M. Landsberg Feb 27 '13 at 0:46
  • If I said, "I don't just make copyediting suggestions," would you accept it as a complete sentence? And if you would, would you also accept it as the first part of a compound sentence roped off with a semicolon? – Sven Yargs Feb 27 '13 at 1:13
  • @SvenYargs Yes, I would, but it still carries the implication of something more yet to be revealed. I admit I'm talking nuance here; I think it's BETTER to see it as incomplete (just begging for the other end of the implication to show up), but I admit it's definitely not wrong to view that clause as a complete sentence. Strictly speaking, you are quite right. But consider this: If you said those words to me and stopped there, I would feel compelled to say, "Oh, cool, Sven, and what else do you do?" I couldn't respond with only, "Oh. Okay." I mean, I COULD, but I hope I'm not that rude. :-) – John M. Landsberg Feb 27 '13 at 1:29
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Actually, we do have two independent clauses on each side of the punctuation marker. Thus, the use of the comma is technically incorrect (it's what's known as a comma splice). That being said, it has fallen into somewhat common use to use the comma there rather than a semicolon or period; as a result, you could probably get away with using a comma.

  • I don't think it would become a comma splice thanks to not only in the first clause. – user140086 Feb 23 '16 at 9:16
  • Granted, there are a good number of native English speakers who would discount the possibility of "This not only produces higher success rates" as a non-sentence on the basis that it is not commonly used (nor is it commonly useful in everyday conversation). This gets into the debate on linguistic prescriptivism vs linguistic descriptivism, however, and that's a conversation for private messaging. – David McKnight Feb 23 '16 at 9:31
  • "This not only produces higher success rates" is still an independent clause, and can stand as its own sentence, however awkward it may seem. – David McKnight Feb 23 '16 at 9:32
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The example sentence's wording

This not only produces higher success rates[, or ;] it increases our energy and morale instead of depleting them.

has a built-in awkwardness that I will try to isolate by stepping through a series of alternative wordings. The simplest way to express the ideas that appear in the example sentence might be as two short sentence:

This produces higher success rates. It also increases our energy and morale instead of depleting them.

I trust that no one finds the wording or the punctuation of this two-sentence version problematic. The first sentence points to one effect of the referentless "This" at the beginning of the sentence, and the second sentence points to a second effect of that same "This." Likewise, I see no grounds (other than stylistic ones) for objecting to a sentence that separates the two ideas with a semicolon:

This produces higher success rates; it also increases our energy and morale instead of depleting them.

The structure that the OP asks about is considerably more complex than either of the first two that I put forward, however—at least in its logic. It doesn't content itself with "A does x. A also does y" or "A does x; A also does y." Instead, it reaches toward this expression: "Not only does A do x, but it also does y." That formulation, when applied to the OP's sentence, yields a wording like this:

Not only does this produce higher success rates, but also it increases our energy and morale instead of depleting them.

Again, I trust that no one would argue that this sentence is incorrectly punctuated. We have a compound thought expressed in "not only x, but also y" form, where a comma is surely the most appropriate internal punctuation mark to use.

Now let's step closer to the OP's version of the sentence by starting the sentence with "This" instead of with "Not only." In our symbol-based summary of the expression, we now have "This not only does x, but also does y." Expressed in the OP's wording, the sentence looks like this:

This not only produces higher success rates, but also increases our energy and morale instead of depleting them.

Once again, I don't see any reason for a semicolon enthusiasts to object to the internal punctuation. A comma is clearly all you need to divide the two clauses.

But the OP's example takes the wording two steps farther, and those steps, I think, are the source of the disagreement over whether a comma or a semicolon is the better punctuation mark for the resulting sentence. First, the OP's sentence drops the "but also" that my intermediate examples of the "not only... but also..." structure explicitly included. Second, the OP's sentence reintroduces the "it" that dropped out of my intermediate examples as soon as I switched from starting the sentence with "Not only" to starting it with "This."

In my opinion, the resulting sentence is not well formed, because it transposes "this" and "not only" in the first clause without dispensing with "it" in the second. In the "Not only..." sentence, we can mentally adjust the construction to compensate for the loss of "but also" by treating the dropped-out "but also" as an elision:

Not only does this produce higher success rates, [but also] it increases our energy and morale instead of depleting them.

But we can't do the same thing once the sentence starts with "This...":

This not only produces higher success rates, [but also] it increases our energy and morale instead of depleting them.

That isn't the way I would express the sentence in full because both the "not only" and the implicit "but also" are subordinated to "This" in the parallel structure, which renders the "it" superfluous.

Back in 2013, when I commented on John M. Landsberg's answer, I suggested that we could restore the coherence of the sentence's structure by replacing "not only produces" with "doesn't just produce"after the opening word "This." But doing so, in my view, calls for using a semicolon at the break between phrases:

This doesn't just produce higher success rates; it increases our energy and morale instead of depleting them.

The reason this measure works, I think, is that it concedes that the "not only... but also..." structure no longer governs the sentence. You can slip the "also" back into the second part of the sentence:

This doesn't just produce higher success rates; it [also] increases our energy and morale instead of depleting them.

But the "but" from the "but also" phrase has nowhere to go. In effect, the "This doesn't just..." sentence opening brings us back to our old "A does x; A also does y" wording, with the slightly mind-boggling twist that the "A does x" term now reads as "A doesn't just do x."


To sum up, my answer to the question, "Which is correct—

This not only produces higher success rates, it increases our energy and morale instead of depleting them.

or

This not only produces higher success rates; it increases our energy and morale instead of depleting them.

?" is, It doesn't matter which punctuation mark you choose because your underlying sentence is flawed. That is not to say that readers won't be able to make sense of what you're trying to say. It is simply to say that the hybrid wording you have chosen is the source of the perceived punctuation problem.

If you rebuild the sentence to express a legitimate "not only... but also..." structure, you will naturally use a comma to separate the two main clauses. Conversely, if you make the expression conform to an "A does x; it also does y" structure, the semicolon (if not division into two separate sentences) will recommend itself.

But

This not only produces higher success rates[, or ;] it increases our energy and morale instead of depleting them.

falls between two stools, and punctuation isn't going to get it back on its feet.

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