FAQ - English & Grammar

What is a Semicolon Used For

What is a Semicolon Used For?




What is a semicolon?


A semicolon is a punctuation mark that consists of a period above a comma. It looks like this (;).



What is a Semicolon Used For?


Semicolons are most commonly used to indicate pauses between two independent clauses in a sentence. When a semicolon is used, it typically indicates a pause that is stronger than a pause indicated by a comma. To use a semicolon instead of another punctuation mark, such as a comma, the two independent clauses must be closely related in thought. When semicolons are used to link two or more parts or ideas in a sentence, the ideas that are being linked are given equal rank or position.


In addition to being used to indicate pauses between two independent clauses, semicolons are also used to separate items in a list if the list items contain commas. When a semicolon is used in this way, it is to eliminate confusion that might be caused by trying to use a comma to separate list items that already contain commas.



Examples of Semicolons Used in Sentences


·         Some people like to run on treadmills; others prefer to run outside.


·         The school building is red; it is also made of brick.


·         I ordered another slice of pizza; one wasn’t enough.



When to Use Semicolons?


You should use a semicolon in all of the following situations:


1.      To connect related independent clauses


 She gave me a watch; she knew that was my favorite type of gift.



2.      In the place of a conjunction between two independent clauses


I need sunshine; I need to be outside.



3.      With a conjunctive adverb or transitional phrase


I finished my work out early; as a result, I made it home sooner than I expected.



4.      To separate items in a list in which commas are used


Filming locations included London, England; Austin, Texas; and New Orleans, Louisiana,




Semicolons vs. Colons



Semicolons are very similar to colons, but they are not the same. A colon is a punctuation mark that consists of two periods stacked on top of each other (:). Semicolons and colons are both used in sentences to show that something is happening. However, unlike semicolons, which show that a pause is occurring between two related independent clauses, colons show that something is coming. Colons usually indicate that new information such as a quote, an example, or a list is coming. Colons can also be used to set off a book’s subtitle, to explain numerical ratios, or to express time.


Another important thing to understand about colons is that they usually connect two dependent clauses. This means that the words that follow a colon usually could not stand alone as an independent sentence. This is different from semicolons that primarily connect two independent clauses.


Examples of Colons Being Used


·         It is 4:30 PM.   (expressing time)


·         60 Days Alone: Surviving a Desert Island    (expressing a book’s subtitle)


·         The teachers at the elementary school teach in a 20:1 ratio.    (mathematical ratio)


We knew which people would arrive first: Steven, Laura, and Sammy.   (list) 

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