What Are Semicolons? (with Examples)
SemicolonsA semicolon (;) is a punctuation mark used:
- In complex lists
- When a slight break is preferable to new sentence
- Before conjunctions (e.g., and, or, but) in certain circumstances.
How Semicolons Are UsedHere is a quick overview on how semicolons are used:
(1) In complex lists (i.e., when the list items themselves contain commas).
Semicolons can be used to outrank any commas which appear in list items.
- The dinner guests will be Lord Loxley, aged 91; Lady Loxley, aged 41; and Master Loxley, aged 42
- Lord Loxley, aged 91
- Lady Loxley, aged 41
- Master Loxley, aged 42
Not all list items have to have commas to justify using semicolons. Only one does. For example:
- Lord Loxley, aged 91; Lady Loxley; and Master Loxley
(2) To merge two sentences into one to create a smooth transition between the sentences.
Most sentences start with a capital and end with a full stop / period . However, when a smooth transition is required, the full stop / period can be replaced by a semicolon.
- Jane was one of the lucky ones. She only had to sit through it twice.
- Jane was one of the lucky ones; she only had to sit through it twice.
- Jane was one of the lucky ones, she only had to sit through it twice. (This is called a run-on sentence or a comma fault.)
Often, when merging two sentences into one, the second sentence will start with a bridging phrase (or a "transitional phrase" as it's called). Common ones are "However," "As a result," "Consequently," and "Therefore."
On occasion, a transitional phrase can be preceded by semicolon to create a smoother transition than a full stop / period.
- Vacation used to be a luxury. However, in today's world, it has become a necessity.
- Vacation used to be a luxury; however, in today's world, it has become a necessity.
- Vacation used to be a luxury, however, in today's world, it has become a necessity.
Read more about semicolons before transitional phrases
Read more about run-on sentences
(3) Before a conjunction
Often two sentences are merged into one using a coordinate conjunction (a word like "and," "or," "but"). For example:
- Lee loves pies. He loves cakes.
- Lee loves pies, and he loves cakes. (The conjunction "and" is used to merge the sentences into one. When using a conjunction for this purpose, use a comma before the conjunction.)
- With a fridge full of cheese-and-onion pies, Lee obviously loves pies; but he prefers, from what I have seen, Eccles cakes.
Read more about semicolons before conjunctions
Other Punctuation MarksHere is a slider with lessons to the other punctuation marks:
Why Should I Care about Semicolons?The rules for using semicolons are relatively simple (compared to, say, commas or apostrophes), but, as any proofreader will tell you, they are regularly misused. Once you've learned how to use semicolons, you should limit their use because, usually, the simpler alternative is better and the overuse of semicolons gets annoying quickly.
Read more about using semicolons and the alternatives.