When to Use A Semicolon: How to Use A Semicolon

Semicolon definition: A semicolon is a punctuation mark that is used to separate equal grammatical units.

What is a Semicolon?

A semicolon is a type of punctuation mark. It is not end punctuation like a period, an exclamation point, or a question mark. Rather, a semicolon is used within a sentence.

Semicolons look like a combination of a colon and a comma. Therefore, they are called semicolons, which literally means “half colon.”

How To Use Semicolons

When to use a semicolon Semicolons are sometimes called the “super comma,” but they are distinct enough to be their own punctuation mark and have different and specific functions from commas.

Semicolons are most often used to separate two equal independent clauses within one complete sentence.

Semicolon Example:

  • I have to wake-up early; I hate sleeping in late.

The other most common use of semicolons is to separate lists when commas are present within the list itself which is part of a single independent clause.

Semicolon Example:

  • My teacher told me important lessons: to read, read, and reread; to always ask questions, even when I think I know the answer; and to always believe in myself.

When to Use Semicolons

Semicolons have various uses. Here is a more detailed explanation of what we have briefly examined in the above sections.

1.) To unite closely connected sentences

Semicolon grammar usageSemicolons are used to unite sentences that have equal weight and importance.

It’s important to note that this is different from using a period. A period is used to end a sentence. A semicolon joins two independent thoughts that are closely related.

A semicolon is only used to join sentences when the independent clauses are of equal importance, length, and weight.

Examples:

  • I have to wake-up early; I hate sleeping in late.
  • Let’s go to lunch; I forgot to bring food.
  • He did not know the answer; he guessed and responded correctly.

2.) Before a conjunction.

When a sentence contains multiple commas in the first clause, it is appropriate to use a semicolon before a conjunction to join two clauses.

When too many commas are used in one sentence, the sentence becomes confusing. A semicolon helps to break up the clauses and avoid confusion for the reader.

Examples:

  • I bought apples, oranges, and pears; but I couldn’t find bananas.
  • My mom taught me how to sew, bake, and cook; and, now that I have my own family, I couldn’t be more grateful for her lessons.

3.) In a complex list containing its own commas.

Capital letter after semicolon When a list contains multiple commas (not just the commas separating the elements of the list), a semicolon should be used instead of a comma.

Commas separate the items within a list. However, when the items in the list contain commas themselves, semicolons should be used to separate the items in the complex list.

Examples:

  • My teacher told me important lessons: to read, read, and reread; to always ask questions, even when I think I know the answer; and to always believe in myself.
  • I have visited the Invalides, the Eiffel Tower, and the Louvre in France; the Prado, the Sagrada Familia, and the Guggenheim in Spain; and the St. Louis Arch, the Space Needle, and the Smithsonian in the United States.

4.) Stylistically simple for longer pause than a comma

If a writer chooses to create a longer, more dramatic pause, he may decide to use a semicolon instead of a comma. A semicolon creates a longer stop for the reader.

Examples:

  • I couldn’t believe the result; and I didn’t know what to do after hearing it.
  • My doctor told me I shouldn’t be concerned; but I didn’t know how else to react.

Capitalization After Semicolon

Capital after semicolon Do you capitalize after a semicolon? Words after a semicolon should not be capitalized. It may seem like capitalization after a semicolon is necessary, especially when two clauses are combined; however, capitalizing words after a semicolon is inappropriate.

The only words that should be capitalized after a semicolon are proper nouns, which are always capitalized.

Common Errors With Semicolons

Capitalization after semicolon As with any punctuation mark, the semicolon is routinely misused. The most common error with semicolons is to confuse them with colons.

Using it instead of a colon

A semicolon and a colon may look similar; however, they have different functions entirely.

A colon introduces lists while a semicolon separates complex lists.

Example of colon use:

  • I wanted three things for my birthday: a necklace, a bike, and a phone.

A colon introduces a new thought that requires capitalization; a semicolon joins two ideas that are similar in nature. A colon gives greater emphasis on the second sentence where the semicolon balances the two sentences.

Example of semicolon use:

  • I got accepted to college; I am excited.

Summary: What Are Semicolons?

Define semicolon: the definition of semicolon is a punctuation mark that separates parts that need a more substantial break than a comma can provide but less than a period.

In summary, a semicolon is:

  • a type of punctuation mark
  • most often used to join closely related sentences

not to be confused with a colon or a comma

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