Using the Semicolon

When to Use a Semicolon?

As you can see, a semicolon is a period above a comma. It is interesting to note that fact because it is actually quite a good explanation of how a semicolon functions. It is weaker than a period but stronger than a comma.

Whereas a period indicates a full stop and a comma indicates a slight pause, the semicolon indicates a pause that is greater than a comma, but not as great as a period. It is a sort of “super-comma.

Semicolon Rules

Rule 1:

Use a semicolon to connect two related independent clauses. An independent clause basically means it’s a sentence that makes sense on its own. Therefore, two related independent clauses are two sentences that could make sense on their own but are related in some way, normally in the sense that the second independent clause gives us more information about the first. Look at these examples and notice how each consists of two sets of sentences which are related to each other:
• I hate Alaska; it’s too cold.
• I always get up early on weekends; I like to make the most of my time off work.
• We love all animals; cats are our favorite.

Rule 2:

Use a semicolon to replace coordinating conjunction. As has been suggested earlier, in most cases a semicolon can be used stylistically to replace conjunction like and, but, because and so on. You can see in the examples below how it’s a choice between conjunction or semicolon
• I hate Alaska because it’s too cold.
• I always get up early on weekend, as I like to make the most of my time off work.
• We love all animals, but cats are our favorite.

Rule 3:

Use a semicolon when writing serial lists. What is a serial list? A list that is long or requires punctuation to divide up different clauses, as in the example about mayors above.
Here’s an example of a normal list that wouldn’t require a semicolon:
• I like the colors red, green, blue, orange and turquoise.
Here’s an example of a serial list that would require a semicolon to separate the clauses:
• I like lots of colors, including red, as it reminds me of roses; green, like the grass in a country meadow; blue, like the sky; orange, for all those sunsets at dusk; turquoise, as it conjures up the color of the Caribbean Sea.

Rule 4:

Use a semicolon when you have a conjunctive adverb that links two independent clauses. This can be tricky, because sometimes conjunctive adverbs – however, moreover, indeed, nevertheless, otherwise, etc. – can be used in sentences without linking two independent clauses. Here are some examples of how it works:
• I really don’t like red meat; moreover, it’s bad for your health.
• John wanted to go for a walk across the hills; indeed, he felt he could do with the exercise.
• We dislike all Tarantino’s movies; however, we will make an exception for Pulp Fiction.
Remember: the semicolon is only used to join two independent clauses linked by a conjunctive adverb, so you don’t need to use a semicolon every time you come across words like however, otherwise and moreover.

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