I am confused as to whether this sentence should have a comma or semicolon.

Walker was not only a trailblazer in the medical field (,/;) she was also a relentless visionary who bravely challenged many of the social prejudices of her day.

closed as off-topic by choster, user140086, Drew, Nathaniel, Helmar Jan 6 '17 at 12:05

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  • 3
    Welcome to EL&U. One of the expectations of this site is that you have attempted some initial research— in short, which do you think is correct, and why, and why are you unsure? I strongly encourage you to take the site tour and review the help center for additional guidance. – choster Jan 6 '17 at 3:58
  • It depends... When did the person grading the test take freshman English in college? – Hot Licks Jan 6 '17 at 4:01
  • commas let the speaker breathe, semicolon's form a list – JonMark Perry Jan 6 '17 at 4:09
  • @JonMarkPerry Commas have nothing to do with respiration; moreover, semicolons have several uses. – deadrat Jan 6 '17 at 5:25
  • Typical SAT question -- nothing to do with the supposed test topic; everything to do with second guessing the test maker. Is he trying to trick you into accepting a comma splice? – deadrat Jan 6 '17 at 5:38

I'd use a comma there. Two independent clauses that complete a thought is where I'd use a semicolon--if I used a semicolon at all. "Walker was a trailblazer; she bravely challenged the social prejudices of her day." Two complete sentences. One thought. Anyway, that's how I think of it. But I'm no expert; I write novels.

Nowadays it's rare to find a semicolon in a novel, even commas are endangered. Interestingly enough, they read fine with less punctuation--but editors cringe. Oh, another use is after a long series of commas sometimes a semicolon is used to give the reader a breath.

  • The first sentence of your second paragraph makes me cringe; I would have used a semicolon there. – MT_Head Jan 6 '17 at 5:09
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    @MT_Head Do you suppose the irony was intended or unintended? – deadrat Jan 6 '17 at 5:27
  • Readers don't need punctuation marks to tell them when to breathe. – deadrat Jan 6 '17 at 5:29
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    @deadrat I wondered about that; I wondered, and I still don't know. – MT_Head Jan 6 '17 at 5:35

If I were an SAT question asker, and I had to explain to my supervisor in the SAT hierarchy why the particular question that you're asking about is SAT-worthy, here's what I'd say:

This question will trip up people who don't know the difference between a sentence that begins

Walker was not only a trailblazer in the medical field

and a sentence that begins

Besides being a trailblazer in the medical field

In the second example, you would have to use a comma—not a semicolon—because the "Besides ..." wording is an introductory clause, not an independent clause. But in the first example, the "Walker was not only..." wording is an independent clause. And in SAT Land, two independent clauses cannot be joined merely by a comma; they must be joined by a semicolon or stronger punctuation, or by a comma plus an appropriate conjunction. So it would be correct to say

Not only was Walker a trailblazer in the medical field, but also she was ...

and it would be correct to say

Walker was not only a trailblazer in the medical field; she was also ...

and it would be correct to say

Walker was not only a trailblazer in the medical field. She was also ...

But it would be wrong in SAT Land to say

Walker was not only a trailblazer in the medical field, she was also ...

because that punctuation constitutes a dread comma splice (as understood in SAT Land). And I guarantee you, boss, that this question will satisfy the requirement of drawing wrong (in SAT Land) answers on at least 29% of all tests—so I think we've got a winner here!

Back in the real world, many of these propositions are debatable. But you aren't taking the test in the real world, are you?

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