A semicolon is used to connect two complete sentences that are closely related to each other. Browse through this article to discover the rules for using a semicolon in English language.

Semicolon Usage

The semicolon is not just one of the underused and abused punctuation marks; it is the most misunderstood punctuation mark in English language. Often being used in place of commas and periods, a semicolon has its own useful place though it is not as widely used as other punctuations. A semicolon is stronger than a comma but weaker than a period, and is used to link two closely-related sentences. In simple words, it is used to depict a major division in a sentence when two different clauses or items need to be separated. As such, it is best used when you want to avoid using comma but cannot use a colon. Although you can period and start a new sentence, but when they are closely linked and you want to avoid using a conjunction, like and or but, you can keep the sentence continuing with a semicolon. And if you learn the basic rules of semicolon usage in your language, you can enhance your written English and avoid the reader from getting confused. Go through the following text to know the basic rules of using a semicolon.
How To Use Semicolon
Semicolons with Related Verb Clauses
A semicolon is used to join two related verb clauses of equal importance. A verb clause, also known as a main clause, independent clause, superordinate clause, or matrix clause, contains a subject and a predicate. Nevertheless, the verb clause works like a complete sentence. Consider these sentences:
  • Winter storm conditions have made travel impossible; the roads are completely covered in snow and ice.
  • Ann went to the market; she forgot to buy bread and cheese.
  • The baby rarely falls to sleep this early; I think she is afraid she might miss out on something.
Both the above sentences are two different clauses, yet they are connected to each other.
Semicolons with Other Verb Clauses
A semicolon is also used to connect two verb clauses where the second clause begins with an adverb or short parenthetical that may not be important to the meaning of the sentence, yet acts as a transition between the two clauses. Take the following examples:
  • I am afraid of lying on an airplane; thus, I have never traveled anywhere that I could not get to by car or train.
  • He though had reached early; however, he did not know that the train had left ten minutes ago.
  • All campers should bring many backpacking items; for example, sleeping bags, metal pans, and warm clothing will make the trip more enjoyable.
Although the use of adverbs in the above sentences is of no use and the sentences can very well be transformed into two different clauses, but they have been combined into one.
Semicolons with Series
A semicolon may also be used in a sentence that already contains one, in order to separate series included in the sentence. The series may contain a list of three or more items. As such, a semicolon is placed after each item in the series except the last item. Also, the semicolon should be placed before the coordinating conjunction. The seven coordinating conjunctions used in English include and, but, for, nor, or, so, and yet. Take a look at the following examples.
  • Some of the most well-known cities in the United States of America include Chicago, Illinois; New York City, New York; Las Vegas, Nevada; and Los Angeles, California.
  • To study Spanish, you need to practice vocabulary and phrases; listen to lots of examples of good Spanish that is your level; and practice speaking with native speakers.
  • We need to buy potatoes, cream cheese, and butter for the mashed potatoes; brown sugar, honey, vinegar, and mustard for the ham glaze; and cherries, pineapple, and marshmallows for the fruit salad at the store.
Additional Rules
  • Do not use a semicolon to separate items without commas in a series. For example, “Cheddar cheese; skim milk; and ice cream are three of my favorite dairy products”.
  • Similarly, do not use semicolon to separate only two items that contain commas. Say, for instance, “Please grab cereal, milk, and bowls for breakfast; and bread, lunchmeat, and cheese for lunch”.
After going through these tips and rules for using a semicolon, you must have known how and when to use a semicolon. To get the correct hand on semicolon usage, you need to practice to add variety to your writing.

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