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.
How to Use a Semicolon
Here’s the lowdown on semicolon use, along with examples showing semicolons in action:
The semicolon establishes a close connection between two sentences or independent clauses. Example: There’s nothing like the gentle drum of water hitting the window pane; I love the sound of rain.
A semicolon can replace conjunctions and or but. Example: It’s too stormy outside for me; the rain is good for the trees.
Semicolons indicate a stronger separation than a comma but weaker than a period. Example: Jane went to the store; she stopped for gas on the way home.
A semicolon is often used in lists to separate items when some of the items in listed subsets require commas. Example: I have lived in several different cities: San Francisco, California; Haiku, Hawaii; and Santa Barbara, California.
The semicolon is always followed by a lowercase letter with proper nouns being the only exception (proper nouns are always capitalized). Example: I love music; however, I haven’t played my guitar in several years.
Semicolons can be used to separate two clauses or sentences that are saying the same thing in different ways. Example: The sun is out, and the sky is blue; it’s a beautiful day.
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.
How Do You Use a Semicolon?
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? 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.