Tutorial for Semicolon Usage

What is it?

A semicolon (;) indicates a stronger pause than a comma but not as strong a pause as a period.

Usage hints

  1. Use a semicolon to join two independent clauses that are not connected by a coordinating conjunction (and, but, for, nor, or, so, yet).

    In January and February, sunny days are rare and very short in northern countries; winter depression is common in the north.

  2. Use a semicolon to join two independent clauses linked by a conjunctive adverb.

    The stunt pilot had to eject from the cockpit; nevertheless, he was not injured.

  3. Use semicolons to separate items in a series if commas are used within the items.

    Semicolons can help prevent the confusion that might result if commas were used to separate the items.

    Fairy tales inspire children by depicting magical events, which appeal to their imaginations; clever boys and girls, who encourage young readers’ problem-solving skills; evil creatures, who provide thrills; and good, heroic adults, who make the childhood world seem safer.

    Also use semicolons to separate a series of independent clauses containing commas.

    He is stubborn, selfish, and conservative; she is stubborn, combative, and liberal; and no one is surprised that they do not get along.

How to correct errors

  1. Semicolons are not used to introduce a list. If you see a semicolon used in this way, replace it with a colon (:) or an appropriate phrase (for example, such as).

    A growing number of companies employ prison inmates for certain jobs; , such asselling magazines, conducting surveys, reserving airplane tickets, and taking telephone orders.

    Follow this simple procedure to reduce the number of annoying telephone solicitations you receive; :remain polite, stay on the line, and ask the caller to place you on the “never-call” list.

  2. Semicolons are not used to separate a phrase or dependent clause from the rest of the sentence. Omit any semicolon used in this way and, if necessary, replace it with a comma.

    On the other hand; , taking risks can bring impressive results.

    I’ll always wonder; if things could have been different.

  3. Do not use a comma where a semicolon is needed. Look for independent clauses joined with a comma but no coordinating word (and, but, for, nor, or, so, yet). This error is known as a comma splice. To correct the comma splice, you can replace the comma with a semicolon. (For more on comma splices, see the tutorial for comma splices.)

    The dog bolted across the highway,; two cars swerved to avoid hitting him.

    Summer school is never an attractive option for high school students,; however, some students need the extra instruction.