How to Use Semicolons: 3 Simple Tips
As far as punctuation panics go, a semicolon is probably the scariest punctuation and most intimidating mark out there. The mere question of its use can send even the most educated non-linguist into a sweat. After all, isn’t it simpler to separate the thoughts into two sentences and use a period?
The truth is that semicolons are a very necessary punctuation mark. At Precise, we sometimes refer to is as a Super Comma because it can be used to separate complex lists that already need other internal punctuation as well as separating closely related ideas in order to avoid a run-on sentence.
Here are three easy tips to help you know how to use semicolons.
If you really want to make an impression in your writing, connecting two related sentences (or independent clauses) with a semicolon is the best way to grab someone’s attention. Here’s an example:
She was born into a family with all kinds of outdoor elements running through their veins; you would never find a single member plopped in front of a television even on a rainy afternoon.
Think of the second sentence as a continuation of thought from the previous sentence. To put them all in one sentence would be cumbersome; yet to divide the two thoughts into separate sentences would certainly disrupt the flow. See how that works?
Would it be acceptable to separate the clauses with a period? Sure. But this is a case of good, better, and best. In this case, using a semicolon is best.
To further illustrate, one of my favorite quotes about semicolons (as if there are a ton of them out there) is from author and professor at Portland State University, Paul Collins, “The semicolon allows woozy clauses to lean on each other like drunks for support.”
When using the following adverbs or adverbial phrases to join two independent clauses, a semicolon is called for.
- Then (sometimes)
- For example
- That is
The forecast predicted afternoon storms; however, the catering team still planned to serve dinner outside.
(Note that the adverb is followed by a comma, which can be omitted if a pause is not necessary.)
Items in a list that contains other internal punctuation can be separated with a semicolon for more clarity.
They travelled to Sacramento, CA; Salem, WA; Helena, MT; Chicago, IL, then back to Hoboken, NJ.
So, the choice is yours. You can avoid using a semicolon all of your life without so much as prompting a raised eyebrow. I rank in the pro-semicolon column, but that’s just me.
Go ahead, take the challenge. Try one on for size and see how you feel.
P.S. Then again, there’s my other favorite quote about semicolons:
“All semicolons do is show that you’ve been to college.”
Kurt Vonnegut, novelist
What are your semicolon questions? Tell us below, and we’ll be happy to answer.
If you liked this, you might also like…
Everything You Need to Know About Apostrophes (and 2 more things)
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Nikki Corbett is owner of Precise and
Be Smarter Now, wordsmith, writer,
editor, poet, and mom. She developed
a love of writing and the English language
early in life and has been writing stories
since she could pick up a pencil. She
holds degrees in Communications/
Journalism as well as Creative
Writing and Business Administration.