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How to Use a Semicolon

Updated: Feb 14, 2019

Happy Saturday everyone!

Today I'm just going to quickly cover semicolons so you can go into your weekend prepared for all the awesome writing you're sure to do.

If we think of punctuation as a spectrum, with one end being short pauses and the other being full stops, commas would go on one end and periods would be on the other. Semicolons would fall right in the middle. They're a fun little punctuation mark, but they often get misused. Read on to find out how to become a semicolon pro...

1. Semicolons link two complete sentences:

Some people prefer to use Slack; others enjoy the convenience of Hangouts.

  • Notice how the two phrases on either side of the semicolon could be complete sentences on their own.

  • Never use a semicolon to separate incomplete phrases.

  • We would choose a semicolon here (instead of a comma or period) because it makes it clear to the reader that these two sentences are related to and reliant upon each other. A period would make the writing sound choppy while a comma would simply be too short.

2. Semicolons sometimes take the place of conjunctions (and, or, but, yet):

We shipped the device yesterday; it arrived on time this afternoon.

  • You could put a conjunction in place of that semicolon. They're pretty much interchangeable.

3. Semicolons can go between items in a list when some of the items already contain commas:

The office manager bought five shiny, new monitors; several staplers; and a few good, refurbished, designer stools.

  • Here, the semicolon is basically a super-comma

  • If we only used commas in that sentence above, rather than semicolons, there would be a comma overload. With the semicolons, the items in this list are easy to distinguish from one another.

And that's it! Semicolons are powerful and should be used sparingly.

Have a wonderful weekend.

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