Punctuation is just as important as any element of grammar. It indicates pauses, emphasis, and the division of ideas, thereby helping sentences make sense.
It also improves the readability and comprehension of written language, and it can also change the implication of a sentence. For example, if you omit the commas from “I love eating, my children, and my friends,” it becomes “I love eating my children and my friends.”
The omission of the commas alone makes you a demented and cannibalistic person. Misplacement of punctuation marks such as semicolons can also have damaging effects.
When are semicolons used? What’s the difference between semicolons and commas? And how different are they from colons?
I have covered everything in this post.
What is a Semicolon?
A semicolon (;) is a punctuation mark that is used to connect two independent clauses. An independent clause is a group of words that can stand alone as a complete sentence and express a complete thought because it contains both a subject and a verb.
A semicolon indicates a pause that is longer than a comma but less than a period. Semicolons are important punctuation marks because they help clarify the structure and meaning of a sentence.
- I went to the store; however, they were out of biscuits.
- She wanted to go to the beach; the rains made her stay home.
In both examples, the semicolon separates two clauses that are related but could stand alone as separate sentences.
Semicolons are NOT Substitutes for Commas
Semicolons can be used in place of commas in some situations, but they serve different purposes and have different functions.
Commas are used to separate clauses or phrases within a sentence that are not independent. They are used to indicate a brief pause or to set off certain elements within a sentence.
- She went to their headquarters, but they were out of flyers.
- I wanted to go to the beach, but it was raining.
In these examples, commas are used to separate clauses that are related but not independent. And, unlike semicolons, they do not indicate a pause as long as a semicolon.
- Samuel was good at what he did; Dennis was just an imposter.
- She wanted to go to the beach, but it was raining; she stayed home.
In these examples, the semicolons are used to separate clauses that are independent and could stand alone as separate sentences. They indicate a longer pause than a comma.
When are Semicolons Used
Semicolons are used to separate clauses in a sentence, and they can be used in a few different ways:
1. Connecting Independent Clauses
They can be used to connect or separate two independent clauses that are closely related but are not joined by a conjunction.
Here are some examples in which a semicolon is used to connect two related independent clauses:
- I went to his office; I needed to see his boss.
In this example, both “I went to his office” and “I needed to see his boss” are independent clauses. The second sentence reveals the reason for the short trip; therefore, the semicolon is used to connect them and show that they are closely related.
- I finished my homework; I can now relax for the rest of the evening.
In this example, the semicolon is used because the two clauses are independent but related (the second clause is stating the benefit of finishing the speaker’s homework).
2. Creating a Serial List
Semicolons are used to separate items in a list. A serial list is a series of items or ideas that are usually also separated by commas themselves.
Here are examples of normal and serial lists:
- I invited my friends Maria, John, and Sarah. (normal list)
- I invited my friends Jennifer, who is a doctor; Dave, who is an engineer; and Ellen, who is a teacher. (serial list)
The sentence is a serial list because the commas are used to separate parts of the same item.
3. Creating Compound Sentences with Conjunctive Adverbs
Semicolons can also be used to connect clauses that are linked by conjunctive adverbs. The result is a compound sentence, and one or both clauses might contain commas.
Here’s an example in which a semicolon is used to create a compound sentence:
- I went to the store, which is usually crowded on Saturdays; however, it was surprisingly empty today.
- I did not want to go outside today; moreover, it was raining.
In both examples, the semicolon separates clauses and introduces a conjunctive adverb. In turn, the conjunction introduces a transition in the sentence.
4. Replacing a Coordinating Conjunction
A semicolon can also replace a coordinating conjunction in a sentence.
The examples below might clarify this:
- I know you love them, and Cathy is your favorite. (With a coordinating conjunction)
I know you love them; Cathy is your favorite. (Without a coordinating conjunction)
In this example, we removed the comma and the conjunction “and” and replaced them with a semicolon (;).
- He doesn’t like the kids disturbing him, so he always shuts the door. (With a coordinating conjunction)
He doesn’t like the kids disturbing him, so he always shuts the door.(Without a coordinating conjunction)
In this example, we removed the comma and the conjunction “so” and replaced them with a semicolon (;). Do not use a semicolon before conjunctions such as “and,” “or,” or “but.” Instead, use a comma.
Semicolon Vs. Colon
A semicolon (;) and a colon (:) are used in different ways. Since we have already discussed the uses of a semicolon, let’s explain the uses of a colon.
A colon is used to:
- Introduce a list.
- Provide an explanation or elaboration on something that has just been mentioned.
- Introduce a quote.
- Create units of time and ratios.
- Give examples.
Although they both show the relatedness of the statements they connect, a colon demonstrates a stronger and more unambiguous relationship.
To sum up the tips on using semicolons correctly, I will say: Use a semicolon to separate clauses in a compound sentence, introduce a conjunctive adverb, replace a conjunction, and separate items in a list when the items themselves contain commas.
Also remember that semicolons are not commas, and they serve different purposes from colons.
I hope these guidelines help! And I hope I have answered all your questions about using semicolons.