how to use a semicolon

How to use a semicolon.

Lots of people aren’t sure how to use a semicolon.

The semicolon might be the most misunderstood punctuation mark in the English language. This dot-comma combination is often used where a period, colon, or even a plain old comma belongs.

Underused and often abused, the semicolon is useful in a number of writing situations. Although proper semicolon use requires a little finesse, this particular punctuation mark is surprisingly easy to understand.

Here’s the lowdown on semicolon use:

    • The semicolon establishes a close connection between two sentences or independent clauses.
    • A semicolon can replace conjunctions and or but.
    • Semicolons indicate a stronger separation than a comma but weaker than a period.

  • A semicolon is often used in lists to separate items when some of the items in listed subsets require commas.
  • The semicolon is always followed by a lowercase letter with proper nouns being the only exception (proper nouns are always capitalized).
  • Semicolons can be used to separate two clauses or sentences that are saying the same thing in different ways.
  • As with other punctuation marks that denote the end of a clause or sentence, there is no space between the semicolon and the word preceding it; there should be a single space after the semicolon.

Want real examples that show how to use a semicolon? You got ’em!

  • I watched the Grammy Awards last night; I was pleased that Amy Winehouse won and thought it was a great show this year.
  • I love music; however, I haven’t played my own guitar in several years.
  • I have lived in several different cities: San Francisco, California; Haiku, Hawaii; and Santa Barbara, California.
  • When I was in fourth grade, I won the spelling bee for my entire school and went to the district championships. I practiced every night, memorized all the words on the list, and felt confident that I had a shot at winning; I got nervous on stage and misspelled one of the words even though I knew the correct spelling.
  • I’m fascinated by names and their meanings; Melissa means “honey bee.”
  • There’s nothing like the gentle drum of water hitting the window pane; I love the rain.
  • This is not only a grammar post, it’s also a tag from Rudy Amid in which I’m asked to write seven weird facts about myself; the seventh is that I’m using my blog to multitask and be a good sport about memes.

In many cases, semicolon use is appropriate or grammatically correct, but when a period will do the trick, go with two separate sentences. In other words, if you can choose between separating clauses with a semicolon or writing two separate sentences (using a period), write two separate sentences. This makes text easier to read.

How often do you use semicolons? Ever? Do you think it’s best that this punctuation mark is used sparingly, or should we all aim for increased semicolon use — start a new fad, maybe? Share your thoughts on how to use a semicolon in the comments.

Oh, and I tag anyone who feels like sharing seven weird facts about themselves. Post them on your blog, and then come back and leave a comment here! And don’t forget to keep practicing proper semicolon use.

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