By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated, November 26, 2013)
The semicolon is a misunderstood bit of punctuation that many people avoid using, but it has two important roles: tying together connected sentences and acting as a super comma.
Tying Two Sentences Together with a Semicolon
Use a semicolon if:
- you have two clauses that contain related or contrasting ideas,
- each could each be a full sentence on its own, and
- there is no connecting word between them (connecting words include and, but, nor, yet, or, so, and for):
Some people preferred hamsters; Mabel was a gerbil person. (A semicolon is used here because the two ideas are related but each is a full sentence on its own.)
Some people preferred hamsters, but Mabel was a gerbil person. (A semicolon is not used here because the two clauses are connected with but.)
Using a Semicolon as a Super Comma
Semicolons are used for item series when individual item descriptions already contain commas:
She packed all of her clothing except for the blue dress, the red shoes, and the purple socks; a few of her favourite knick-knacks; and all of the food in the cupboard, including Chester’s Peanut Butter Panda Puffs cereal.
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- OWL at Purdue. (2013). “How to Use Quotation Marks” and “Extended Rules for Using Commas.” The Writing Lab & the OWL at Purdue and Purdue University. OWL.English.Purdue.edu.
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