How to use a semicolon - Emma Bryce
How to Use a Semicolon
The semicolon can connect closely related ideas, spice up your writing, and make your sentences sound more sophisticated—if you use it correctly. If you'd like to know how to use the tricky semicolon the right way, just follow these easy steps.
Linking Two Sentences
Write one complete sentence.A complete sentence must contain a subject and a verb and be a complete thought. Thesubjectis the person, place, or thing that the sentence is about, and theverbis the action that is being performed in the sentence.
- Ex:"Wanda couldn't fall asleep last night."
Write another closely related sentence.This sentence must be strongly related to the first sentence for the semicolon to work.
- Ex:"She had too much on her mind."
Connect the sentences with a semicolon.Remember to make the first letter of the second sentence lowercase.
- Ex:"Wanda couldn't fall asleep last night; she had too much on her mind."
Linking Items in a List
Write a sentence that contains a complicated list.Each item in the sentence should contain commas, and each item should also be separated by commas.
- Ex:"I have a sister in Columbus, Ohio, another sister in Palm Springs, Florida, and a third sister in Oakland, California."
Use the semicolon as a "super-comma" to separate the items of the list.This will make it easier to distinguish between the items in the list.
- Ex:"I have a sister in Columbus, Ohio; another sister in Palm Springs, Florida; and a third sister in Oakland, California."
Linking Sentences with Internal Punctuation
Write one sentence with internal punctuation.This sentence can use a colon, dash, or a comma. Sentences with internal punctuation tend to be longer. Using semicolons to separate sentences with internal commas is the most common method.
- Ex:"My cousin, Martha Mary Louise, is the most talented and original cook I have ever met."
Write another closely related sentence with internal punctuation.
- Ex:"She is very resourceful and can make almost any old food taste delicious, but she does specialize in the following items: cod, fruitcake, and squash."
Connect the sentences with a semicolon.
- Ex:"My cousin, Martha Mary Louise, is the most talented and original cook I have ever met; she is very resourceful and can make almost any old food taste delicious, but she does specialize in the following items: cod, fruitcake, and squash."
Note that you can also use a semicolon to connect one sentence with internal punctuation and one simple sentence.
- Ex:"My cousin, Martha Mary Louise, is the most talented and original cook I have ever met; I love her cooking."
Linking Sentences with a Transitional Phrase or Conjunctive Adverb
Write a sentence.You can keep it simple.
- Ex:"I ate an entire apple pie last night."
Write another closely related sentence using a transitional phrase or a conjunctive adverb.
- Conjunctive adverbsare words that show a relationship between the two sentences, such as cause and effect, contrast, or comparison. Some examples include:however, besides, finally,andhence.
Transitional phrasesare used to move from one sentence to the next in a logical and smooth way. Some examples includein other words, moreover,andin addition.
- Ex:"As a result,'I felt sick when I woke up."
Connect the two with a semicolon.
- Ex:"I ate an entire apple pie last night; as a result, I felt sick when I woke up."
Avoid Confusing the Semicolon with the Comma
Do not use a semicolon instead of a comma.Commas can be used to connect two simple sentences and a coordinating conjunction (but, and, nor,orso, for example), while a semicolon cannot.
- Example of correct usage: "I love my cat, but he drives me crazy."
- Example of incorrect usage: "I love my cat; but he drives me crazy."
Do not use a comma instead of a semi-colon.A comma canneverbe used to separate two independent clauses (complete sentences). This is called acomma spliceand should be avoided at all times.
- Example of correct usage: "My kitty is cute; he loves to cuddle."
- Example of incorrect usage: "My kitty is cute, he loves to cuddle."
Semicolon Usage Chart
QuestionWhat is the difference in the hyphen and a dash?Top AnswererHyphens connect words to each other. Dashes are used to add emphasis or indicate a pause in thought.Thanks!
QuestionCan you use a semicolon instead of ", but"?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYou can use a semicolon followed by "however,". A semicolon alone would not provide the indication that you are about to contrast something with what you just said, and you need to provide that indication.Thanks!
The most common way to use a semicolon is to link two complete sentences rather than separating them by a period, whether they are simple sentences, contain internal punctuation, or are connected with a transitional phrase or conjunctive adverb such as “however,” “besides,” “finally,” or “in addition.” You can also use a semicolon to separate items in a complex list when the individual items contain punctuation.
- Try to keep the clauses as closely related as you can.
- Don't overuse the semicolon; it can become overused and can wear on your reader. :)
- Use semicolons instead of periods to show a closer relationship between the sentences.
- Pick up a book and see how semicolons are used. The more you get used to reading sentences with semicolon, the easier it will be to read them.
Video: How to use a semicolon
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