How to Use Semicolons Correctly

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Semicolons are used to show a major division in a sentence where a separation is needed between clauses or items. They are used to connect similar ideas and avoid confusion between list items. Semicolons are best described as the punctuation used when you want to avoid using a comma but cannot use a colon. Proper use of semicolons will allow your writing to flow smoothly and avoid reader confusion.

  • Use semicolons to combine two independent clauses. Some people like Coke; other people like Pepsi.

  • Use semicolons to combine clauses connected by conjunctive adverbs or transitional phrases. I wanted to go to the movie; however, I didn't have the money.

  • Use semicolons when lists have items that contain commas. I have visited Spain, England and Germany in Europe; Korea, Japan and China in Asia; and Peru, Brazil and Colombia in South America.

  • Use semicolons with long phrases. Amy introduced us to Susan, her cousin; Fred, her uncle; several childhood friends; and her parents.

  • Use semicolons with phrases where the number of commas may confuse the reader. In this case, it is preferred to rewrite the sentence. In Macon, Ga., destroyed by tornadoes, Red Cross members, in spite of their numbers, cannot fix the power or water; so people are cold, tired and sick.

Tips & Warnings

  • The conjunctive adverbs are accordingly, afterwards, also, consequently, however, indeed, likewise, moreover, nevertheless, nonetheless, otherwise, similarly, still and therefore.
  • Use one space after a semicolon.
  • Place semicolons outside quotation marks.
  • Do not use a semicolon to link a dependent clause or phrase to an independent clause.
  • Do not use a semicolon if an ordinating conjunction -- such as and, but or or -- is present.
  • If you are unsure if you should use a semicolon, rewrite the sentence to avoid using one.
  • Photo Credit writing image by Horticulture from Fotolia.com
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