What is the semicolon, and when should you include it when writing?
Answer: The semicolon looks like a comma with a period above it, and this can be a good way to remember what it does. (Please see punctuation chart, in our introduction to punctuation marks workshop). ( ; )
The semicolon is stronger than a comma, and less final than a period. Semicolons can clarify ideas in a sentence festooned with commas. Semicolons link independent clauses to form one complete sentence.
Always remember, an independent clause is a group of words that can stand on its own as a sentence: it has a subject, a verb, and is a complete thought.
A semicolon can replace a conjunction i.e.,- and, but, etc., to make the sentence shorter or give it variety.
Why use the semicolon instead of the period or the comma?
1. To emphasize the relationship of two independent clauses.
2. To add a little sentence variety to writing.
The two main clauses that the semicolon joins should be closely related in meaning.
• Stanley’s favorite color is blue; his jacket is blue.
• Susan’s mom is a chef at Maggiano’s; she enjoys cooking Italian food.
Don’t capitalize the word that follows the semicolon unless that word is a proper noun, one that is always capitalized.
• Our new math teacher is down to earth; Mrs. Smith is super cool.
Proper noun = Mrs. Smith
• I enjoy reading magazines; New York Times, is the best.
Proper noun = New York Times
Semicolons link independent clauses to form one complete sentence.
• Kaylee’s audition was a disaster. Many of the talent recruiters encouraged her to keep her day job. (In this example we used the period/full stop to form two separate, complete sentences).
• Kaylee’s audition was a disaster; many of the talent recruiters, encouraged her to keep her day job. (In this example we used the semicolon to link two independent clauses that are related).
The above sentence examples can also be written adding a conjunction rather than using a semicolon.
• Kaylee’s audition was a disaster, and many of the talent recruiters encouraged her to keep her day job.
and = the conjunction.
Use a semicolon before a transitional linking word or phrase (however, otherwise, in fact, for example, etc.):
• Tom is easily annoyed; for example, if a bird poops on his car, he throws a fit.
• Beauty advisors who work for MAC cosmetics must wear makeup to work; otherwise, they may lose their job.
• His parents wanted him to be a lawyer; however, he had other plans. *
*The above sentence can be written several ways.
• His parents wanted him to be a lawyer. However, he had other plans. ( In this sentence we used the period/full stop to create two complete sentences).
• His parents wanted him to be a lawyer, however, he had other plans. (In this sentence we used commas).
Here are a list of conjunctive adverbs that can be used with the semicolon:
• in fact,
• for example,
Should I use semicolons when creating, and or listing items?
If your list includes clauses and those clauses have commas in them, it can be a little confusing for the reader, it’s best to separate items with a semicolon.
• Students auditioning for the school’s play: must arrive on time, already dressed in costume, ready to sing all the songs in the play, including gender specific lyrics, and must have all script lines memorized.
In the same sentence below; we used the semicolon, to help aid clarity.
• Students auditioning for the school’s play: must arrive on time, already dressed in costume, ready to sing all the songs in the play; including gender specific lyrics; and must have all script lines memorized. *
*The and after the semicolon in the sentence above serves to introduce the last item. In this unique instance, the word and serves less as a coordinating conjunction and more as a coordinating list, because we’re not coordinating independent clauses when we use the semicolon before the word and in this instance.
Do not use the conjunction and semicolon at the same time unless you are using them to list items (see the last example).
Now it’s time to test your knowledge on semicolon punctuation. Please complete the worksheet titled: Semicolon Worksheet. You’ll find it on our website. Just click on the menu section, then select worksheets.
We hope you enjoyed this workshop!