• 2-minute read
  • 7th December 2015

When to Use a Semicolon

The semicolon is notorious for being difficult. Used wrongly, it makes your work read very oddly indeed. Today, we’re going to show you how to use it correctly.

Reasons to Use a Semicolon

You should only use a semicolon to:

  • Join two sentences together
  • Separate items in a list

That’s it! Sounds simple right? Unfortunately, it’s not always so easy to discern which kind of sentences can be joined together.

How to Join Sentences with Semicolons

You can use a semicolon to join two independent clauses instead of separating them with a full stop. An independent clause is a complete sentence.

Usually, we join sentences with semicolons to emphasise a connection. For example:

My great aunt fell off a building. Luckily, she used her knickers as a parachute.

Here, two independent clauses are separated by a full stop. However, if we wanted to stress how the second sentence follows from the first, we could use a semicolon instead:

My great aunt fell off a building; luckily, she used her knickers as a parachute.

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How to Use Semicolons in Lists

You should use semicolons in lists that also contain commas to separate items clearly. For instance:

After my great aunt parachuted to the ground using her knickers, she was interviewed by several TV stations and newspapers: PBS, NBC, and CCN in the US; the BBC, the Guardian, and the Mail in the UK; and the Daily Express, The Echo, and the Daily Telephone in New Delhi.

Here, each group of names is separated by a semicolon to show they are separate items in the overall list.

Conjunctions and Semicolons Don’t Mix!

The whole point of a conjunction is to join two clauses together. However, there is no need to use a conjunction that joins two sentences (e.g. ‘but’, ‘and’, ‘or’) if you have also used a semicolon. If you want to use a conjunction, use a comma instead:

My great aunt fell off a building, but, luckily, she used her knickers as a parachute.

You can use a semicolon with other conjunctions, as long as they are conjunctions you would use to start a sentence. A good example is the conjunctive adverb ‘however’, since using a semicolon reinforces the connection with the preceding sentence:

My great aunt fell off a building; however, she used her knickers as a parachute.

Comments (1)
AAkwasi Anokorang
15th September 2018 at 12:01
I find the information very useful

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