How To Use A Semicolon

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A semicolon is used to denote a break that has more emphasis than a comma but is less final than a full stop. There are two common circumstances in which it is appropriate to use a semicolon.

  • Use a semicolon between two complete clauses that are not joined by a conjunction.

    A complete clause is a group of words which contains a verb – i.e. if everything else in the sentence was cut away, the clause would still make sense.

    In each of the below examples, both clauses would make sense on their own. A semicolon is useful when two complete clauses feel too closely linked to separate into two different sentences.
    • It’s half past twelve; we’re going to miss lunch.
    • My mother is Indian; I was born in London.
    • She calls her jeans ‘pants’; I say ‘trousers’.

If the second clause is introduced to the sentence with a conjunction, however, you should use a comma instead of a semicolon.

Often, the relationship between the two clauses is one of cause and consequence. If the second clause clarify or expand on the first clause, a colon is also acceptable.

    • It’s half past twelve, so we’re too late to make lunch.
    • My mother is Indian, but I was born in London.
    • She calls her jeans ‘pants’, and I say ‘trousers’.
    • It’s half past twelve: we’re going to miss lunch.
  • Use a semicolon to create a stronger break in a sentence that already has commas (such as in lists).
    • Each student requires two pairs of shoes, including wellington boots; a waterproof jacket, which should have a hood; a change of clothes; and sun cream which has a rating of at least SPF 30.
    • My family have had a very unlucky week: my mother’s purse was stolen, which means she had to cancel and replace all her cards; my father broke his leg a few days later and is now in a plaster cast; and my sister found out her cat, Michaela, had run away.
    • At school, I struggled with English and spelling, which was very upsetting to me; now, however, thanks to Spellzone, I am regularly complimented on the quality of my writing.

If you found this post useful, why not take a look at some of our other articles on grammar?

Do get in touch if you have any questions about spelling and grammar – we’ll address your questions in future blog posts. Find us on Facebook and Twitter, or leave a comment below.

09 Jun 2015
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