In this lesson, we will learn how to effectively use a semicolon.
Although many students shy away from using semicolons, you will see how easy it can be to incorporate them into your writing.
What Is a Semicolon?
A semicolon is a punctuation mark that looks like a period over a comma. While there are few uses for semicolons, they are really effective tools to incorporate into writing. However, writers sometimes forget to pull them out and use them.
How to Use Semicolons
There are a few simple rules that tell us when to use semicolons.
Here is rule number one:1. You may use a semicolon in place of a conjunction when you are joining two sentences together. However, those two sentences need to be closely related. You wouldn’t want to link two random sentences together.
Here is an example: ‘Two fierce mice hissed at the cat; the surprised feline screeched and ran!’ These two sentences are definitely closely related. However, if you were to write, ‘I’m hungry; I hear there are great shows in Las Vegas!’ Well, you can clearly see that these two sentences are not closely related. Remember, in this case, you are dropping the conjunction, and simply adding the semicolon. If the sentences shouldn’t be joined together with a conjunction, they shouldn’t be joined with a semicolon, either.2. This one is a bit tricky, so hang in there. You may use a semicolon when you are joining two sentences together, as you know, but in the second sentence there can be an introductory word like ‘however,’ ‘for instance,’ or ‘therefore.
‘ Here is an example: ‘Sam liked donuts; however, he knew that they did not like him.’3. The third rule piggybacks on the last rule. Take a similar situation, where you are joining two sentences with a semicolon, and the second sentence contains an introductory word or phrase. The difference in rule number three is that a list follows the introductory phrase. Here is a sample of this type of sentence: ‘The tired campers realized they had forgotten some essential items; namely, sleeping bags, shampoo, bug spray, and water.’4.
Speaking of lists, here is another ‘list’ rule for the semicolon. If the items in a series contain commas, use the semicolon in between each item for clarification. Otherwise, things may get too confusing. Take a look at this sentence: ‘Belinda badly wanted to visit these cities: Seattle, Washington; San Francisco, California; Portland, Oregon; and Miami, Florida.’5. This last rule is a bit wild, but we will manage it! Let’s say you have a sentence with an introductory dependent clause that requires a comma. (Remember that a clause is a group of words that contains a subject and a verb.
) If this is the case, then using a semicolon to separate the two sentences, instead of a comma and conjunction, helps avoid confusion. Here is an example to clear things up: ‘Whenever I drive to Portland, I get tired; and tired drivers are a hazard!’
Sometimes we can misuse a semicolon. First, as briefly mentioned before, we would never want to join two unrelated sentences with a semicolon. This is a common sense rule. Just be sure to use a lower-case letter when you start that second related sentence. Also, make sure you have complete sentences on both sides of the semicolon.Second, a semicolon does not take the place of a colon.
Colons have distinct jobs which differ from semicolons. Be sure to use semicolons when and where they are meant to be used.
Let’s do a quick review of the rules! Use a semicolon to:1. Join two related sentences.2.
Join two related sentences when the second sentence contains an introductory word or phrase.3. Join two sentences when the second sentence begins with an introductory word or phrase, and is followed by a list.4. Replace commas in a list where list items contain commas.5.
Join two sentences when the first sentence contains an introductory clause.Using semicolons is important as we grow as writers. Semicolons give us new ways to both express and punctuate sentences. They are a mark of more sophisticated writers.
- Use a semicolon:
- in place of a conjunction when joining two closely related sentences together
- to join two sentences when the second sentence contains an introductory word
- to join two sentences with a semicolon, and the second sentence contains an introductory word or phrase
- for clarification when items in a series contain commas
- to separate two sentences, one of which contains an introductory dependent clause, rather than use a comma and conjunction
To prove your grasp of semicolons, you may be expected to:
- Illustrate the semicolon
- Understand when to use the punctuation mark
- Recognize instances in which the semicolon should not be used