A semicolon is a punctuation mark used to separate parts of a sentence, typically linking two complete ideas. It is considered stronger than a comma but weaker than a period, as it denotes a pause that is slightly longer than a comma, but shorter than the full stop indicated by a period.
The two main purposes of semicolons are to clarify a series in a sentence, and indicate two closely related sentences.
When providing a written list where individual elements contain a comma, the items should be separated using a semicolon. The use of a semicolon in this way is sometimes called a super-comma.
Ari was able to study abroad in main European cities such as Paris, France; Berlin, Germany; and Rome, Italy.
Connecting two closely related independent clauses (a complete sentence containing a subject and verb) with a semicolon looks like this:
Jocelyn was sitting in the library; she was not reading anything.
The two independent clauses in the example above are:
Use semicolons under the following conditions:
Independent clauses – Semicolons are mostly used to separate independent clauses in a single compound sentence. The two independent clauses must be equally important for a semicolon to be justified.
Conjunctive adverbs and transitional phrases – Use a semicolon when two independent clauses are connected by a conjunctive adverb (connecting words like therefore, consequently, furthermore, etc.) or transitional expression (for example, in other words, in addition, etc.).
Items in a list or series: Add a semicolon when listing items containing internal punctuation.
Semicolons often take the place of a comma when additional commas can negatively impact the clarity of a sentence:
Semicolons also replace commas when linking independent clauses without a coordinating conjunction:
Semicolons should also be used to avoid a comma splice (using a comma to link two independent clauses, or separate sentences with related ideas).
The primary use of a colon is to join independent clauses with a list, a noun, or a dependent clause, where semicolons link two independent clauses.
How to correctly use a semicolon in a sentence:
|Independent clauses||Maria scored the highest on the quiz; Lois scored the second highest.|
|Conjunctive adverbs/Transitional phrases||All of the cast and crew of the play received a standing ovation; after all, they've earned it!|
|Items in a list/series||The participants mainly traveled from Pittsburgh, PA; Akron, OH; and Buffalo, NY.|
Learn about other types of punctuation like hyphens, parentheses, and quotation marks.
After working your way through this lesson and video, you have learned:
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