What are Semicolons (;)?

Published by at August 17th, 2021 , Revised On September 21, 2021

A semicolon is used to connect two closely related independent clauses in a sentence. An independent clause is a part of a sentence that can itself be treated as a separate sentence.

I broke my arm this morning; I am going to see the doctor.
Another use of semicolons is to separate list items that involve internal punctuation, such as dashes and commas.

Use a semicolon between items in a list or series if any of the items contain commas. There are basically two ways to write: with a pen or pencil, which is inexpensive and easily accessible; or by computer and printer, which is more expensive but quick and neat.

A semicolon is a stronger punctuation mark in the English language than a comma but weaker than a full stop. However, it cannot be used as a replacement for any other punctuation marks.

Using Semicolon to Connect Independent Clauses

As indicated earlier, the common use of a semicolon is to connect two independent clauses. An independent clause can be described as a group of words, including a subject and a predicate, that can form a complete sentence standing alone.

Lionel Messi is perhaps the most naturally talented football player the gamer has ever seen; he is the highest-earning footballer at the moment.

To check whether your use of a semicolon in a sentence is correct, simply replace the semicolon with a full stop.

Lionel Messi is perhaps the most naturally talented football player the gamer has ever seen. He is the highest-earning footballer at the moment.

As we can see, even when we replaced the semicolon with a period, the two sentences are still grammatically correct. However, because there is a very evidence link between two independent clauses, it would be appropriate to use a semicolon between them rather than a period.

Using Semicolon For Listing Items

Semicolons are often used to separate items in complex lists. While, in general, the list items are divided with commas, if the list items themselves contain a comma, then there should be separated with semicolons.

Items separated by commas:

He is handsome, smart, and rich.

The tour itinerary includes skiing on fresh snow, mountain trekking, and a lavish meal at the local restaurant.

 Items already containing internal punctuations and separated by semicolons

The tour itinerary includes skiing on fresh, flaky, and powdery snow; mountain trekking in Hunza, Kashmir, and Fairy Meadows; and enjoying a lavish meal at the local restaurant.

Several authors mention the use of an ABC analysis as a basis for performing a VCA (Guilding et al., 2000Mecimore and Bell, 1995Shank and Govindarajan, 1992, 1993).

Semicolon Mistakes to Watch Out For

The use of semicolons can be tricky for students who are not well-versed with English language punctuation rules. The first principle is to make sure you do not use semicolons as replacements for commas or colons. Pay special attention to where you place the semicolons in a sentence to avoid common mistakes.

Using a Semicolon in Place of a Colon

Both colons are semicolons look similar, and it is easy to get confused over where to use a colon and where to use a semicolon. However, their use is very different in the English language. While a semicolon is used to separate items containing internal punctuations in complex lists, a colon is used to introduce lists.

  • He has three qualities as a student; his punctuality, attention to detail, and honest behavior.
  • He has three qualities as a student: his punctuality, attention to detail, and honest behavior.

Using a Comma in Place of a Semicolon

A similar mistake is the use of a semicolon in place of a comma. This type of error is also called the comma splice.

  • The restaurant is currently not taking any new orders, it is already full to capacity.
  • The restaurant is currently not taking any new orders; it is already full to capacity.

Because both parts of the sentences are independent clauses, we cannot connect them with a comma. Instead, a semicolon must be introduced between them to show a close link between them.

Using a Semicolon in Place of a Comma

Both a comma and a semicolon have very different functions. While it is true that a semicolon is a more robust version of a comma, we can still not use them interchangeably, as that results in punctuation mistakes.

  • The supervisor asked for a complete list of references; which was not provided.
  • The supervisor asked for a complete list of references, which was not provided.

Remember that a semicolon is introduced to connect two very closely related independent clauses, which can stand as separate sentences on their own. It cannot be used as a replacement for a comma or for connecting an independent clause with a dependent clause.

 

 

About Alvin Nicolas

Nicolas has a master's degree in literature and a PhD degree in statistics. He loves to write, cook and run. Nicolas is passionate about helping students at all levels.