When to use a semicolon: Punctuation rules everyone should know

When to use a semicolon: Punctuation rules everyone should know

Ever wondered when to use a semicolon and how these punctuation marks can change a sentence’s readability? Would you like to learn all the basics of semicolon usage? Then this guide is all you need.

When to use a semicolon
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What is the use of semicolons? Semicolons help a writer connect closely related ideas when a style mark stronger than a comma is needed. By using semicolons effectively, someone can make their writing sound more sophisticated.

However, note that semicolons are actually not interchangeable with commas or periods. Instead, they are somewhere in between: stronger than a comma but not as divisive as a period.

But when do you use a semicolon? And how do you capitalize after a semicolon? Here is all you need to know about this punctuation mark.

When to use a semicolon

Looking for information regarding when to use semicolons? Read this guide below.

You use semicolons when:

1. Linking closely-related independent clauses

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A semicolon is most commonly used to link (in a single sentence) two independent clauses that are closely related in thought. When a semicolon is used to join two or more ideas (parts) in a sentence, those ideas are then given equal position or rank, for example,

Some people write with a word processor; others write with a pen or pencil.

If the two clauses are merely related, not necessarily sequential in thought, use a semicolon. However, if the two related clauses follow a sequence of thought, use a colon.

When to use semicolon
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2. Separating items in a serial list

Use a semicolon to divide the items of a list if the items contain internal punctuation. For example,

My plan included taking him to a nice—though not necessarily expensive—dinner; going to the park to look at the stars, which, by the way, are amazing this time of year; and serenading him with my accordion.

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Use a semicolon between items in a list or series if any of the items contain commas. For example,

There are basically two ways to write: with a pen or pencil, which is inexpensive and easily accessible; or by computer and printer, which is more expensive but quick and neat.

3. Linking independent clauses connected by a coordinating conjunction for clarity or brevity

Use a semicolon between independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction if the clauses are already punctuated with commas or if the clauses are lengthy. For example,

Some people write with a word processor, tablet, or a even a phone; but others, for different reasons, choose to write with a pen or pencil.

4. Linking independent clauses separated by a transitional phrase or conjunctive adverb

Use a semicolon between two independent clauses that are connected by conjunctive adverbs or transitional phrases. For example,

Reports of the damage caused by the hurricane were greatly exaggerated; indeed, the storm was not a “hurricane” at all.

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Use a semicolon before such words and terms as namely, however, therefore, that is, i.e., for example, e.g., for instance, etc., when they introduce a complete sentence. It is also preferable to use a comma after these words and terms. For example,

Bring any two items; however, sleeping bags and tents are in short supply.
how to use a semicolon
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How to use a semicolon the right way

To learn how to use semicolons correctly, adhere to these rules:

1. Avoid a semicolon when a dependent clause comes before an independent clause.

  • Incorrect: Although they tried; they failed.
  • Correct: Although they tried, they failed.

2. A semicolon can replace a period if the writer wishes to narrow the gap between two closely linked sentences.


  • Call me tomorrow; you can give me an answer then.
  • We have paid our dues; we expect all the privileges listed in the contract.

Do you capitalize after semicolons?

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Do you use a capital letter after a semicolon? The general answer is no. A semicolon should be followed by a capital letter only if the word is a proper noun or an acronym.

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Difference between a colon and semicolon

Whereas the semicolon has a comma on the bottom, the colon has two vertically aligned dots, and is most commonly used to introduce a list.

However, colons can also be used between independent clauses, which can lead to some confusion. But when you use a colon before the second independent clause, it needs to explain or introduce the first independent clause.

When should you use a semicolon instead of a comma?

  • Incorrect: The specimens were treated properly, however, they were not stored properly.
  • Correct: The specimens were treated properly; however, they were not stored properly.

The conjunctive adverb, however, shows a connection between the 2 independent clauses; you should not use a comma to connect two independent clauses without a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, nor, etc.).

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  • Incorrect: The sun is wonderful: it produces light, which plants need to survive, it gives us warmth, which is useful for most life, and it makes a sad day happier, which is obviously a positive trait!
  • Correct: The sun is wonderful: it produces light, which plants need to survive; it gives us warmth, which is useful for most life; and it makes a sad day happier, which is obviously a positive trait!

What words follow a semicolon?

When a transitional expression appears between independent clauses, the transition is preceded by a semicolon and usually followed by a comma. For example,

  • The cook's specialty is broiled salmon; however, tonight it's not available.
  • That's a difficult question; in other words, I'm not going to answer it.

Other transitional phrases that can be used after a semicolon include:

  • after all
  • even so
  • in fact
  • as a matter of fact
  • for example
  • in other words
  • as a result
  • for instance
  • in the first place
  • at any rate
  • in addition
  • on the contrary
  • at the same time
  • in conclusion
  • on the other hand

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When to use a semicolon
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How do you use colons and semicolons? - Examples

Check out these examples:

  • There are two choices at this time: run away or fight.
  • We knew who would win the game: the Eagles
  • He wanted to see three cities in Italy: Rome, Florence, and Venice
  • Here are three states that begin with M: Michigan, Mississippi, and Maine.
  • This house has everything I need: two bedrooms, a backyard, and a garage.
  • I have several favorite genres of movies: drama, science fiction, and mystery.
  • This was first said by Shakespeare: "To thine own self be true."
  • The main character in the movie said: "Play hard. Work harder."
  • She went to great lengths to emphasize this: "Kindness never fades."
  • Mrs. Morris preaches this concept: "Second place is first loser."
  • Diana Gabaldon says this prayer before writing: "Help me see what I need to see."
  • The dog trainer gave us this instruction: "Love your dog and she will love you."
  • Claire helped Jamie see his fate: "You're never going to win the Battle of Culloden."
  • I bought a lot of meat at the store: bacon, turkey, chicken, and tuna.
  • I just want you to remember: two can play at that game.
  • You can come pick me up now: I am feeling much better.
  • Never forget this point: think before you speak.
  • Barry wanted to know why I didn't respond to his text: I hadn't received it.
  • The town reminded me of my childhood vacations: both were on the beach.
  • The world is a stage: play your role well.
  • He cares for no one: he is the epitome of selfish.
  • Dad is going bald; his hair is getting thinner and thinner.
  • You should stop eating so much food; you will have to go on a diet.
  • You need new brakes; otherwise, you may not be able to stop in time.
  • Star Trek was my favorite television show during the 1960s; in fact, it is my favorite television show of all time.
  • I had a huge meal; however, I am already hungry again.
  • She had self-defense training; consequently, she warded off the assailant.
  • We had too many fumbles; we lost the game.
  • I know you don't like broccoli; nevertheless, it is very good for you.
  • Michelle drives a Jaguar; Sonya drives a Porsche.
  • I have finished the main course; now I have to make dessert.
  • She calls it the bathroom; I call it the loo.
  • Mom wants the chores completed; moreover, she wants them done properly.
  • I will be there as soon as I finish working; that is a promise I will definitely keep.
  • She didn't see the other car coming; now her car has a huge dent.
  • There is mounting evidence of global warming; of course, some people will never believe it.
  • As far as travel through the United States, I've visited Seattle, Washington; Portland, Oregon; and San Francisco, California.
  • Please pack my anthologies on short stories, poetry, and Shakespearean plays; my biographies on Jackie Kennedy, Charles Stuart, and Queen Elizabeth; and my historical romance novels by Nora Roberts, Jude Devereux, and Diana Gabaldon.
  • You can order a sandwich with bacon, egg, and cheese; ham, egg, tomato, and cheese; or tomato, lettuce, and avocado.

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Now that our guide has taught you all you need to know about when to use a semicolon, make sure you use the punctuation mark correctly. For more interesting facts and guides, continue reading legit.ng.

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