Semicolon Usage Rules


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Semicolon Usage


There are two primary uses for the semicolon in the English language. The first is to separate two closely-related independent clauses within a sentence. If you use a semicolon, there is no need to include a coordinating conjunction, such as “and”. The second use for a semicolon is to separate items in a list when the items are long and complicated or contain internal punctuation, such as a comma.


Ordinarily, you would use a comma to separate items in a list, but if the items contain commas within them, it may be confusing to separate the items with a comma. That’s for the semicolon comes in. Here, we have one example sentence for each usage. In this first one, we have two independent clauses separated by a semicolon. Each of these clauses could stand on its own as a sentence, but we’ve chosen to combine them into a single sentence, and we do so with a semicolon.


It’s proper to use a semicolon in the sentence, because the two phrases “I went to the doctor” and “he told me I had the flu” are very closely related to one another. Hearing that you have the flu is a direct result of going to the doctor. You would not, for instance, be able to use a semicolon in a situation where your two clauses were “I went to the doctor. I scored 99 on my exam,” because they’re not related in the same way that these are.


In order to use a semicolon to separate two independent clauses, the two clauses must be very closely related to one another. The second example was items in the list. As you can see here, we’ve got three items and they are city/state combinations. You’ll recall that the proper way to list out cities and states is: City, State.


Each item has an internal comma, so it could be confusing to try to separate them with commas. The proper usage, in this instance, is to use a semicolon to separate each of them. These are the two primary uses for semicolons in English.



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Last updated: 07/17/2018

 

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