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Semicolons

The second use of semicolons is to connect two related independent clauses. Before we get into this, let's ensure we know what an independent clause is.

An independent clause is a statement or clause that makes sense on its own. This means that it includes a subject, verb, and either an object or a subject complement (something that adds detail about the subject).

So, when you have two related independent clauses, you can connect them in one sentence by using a semicolon.

Remember - when you use a semicolon to connect two independent clauses, the clauses must be related.

Let's look at a couple of examples of where a semicolon can be used in this way.

Semicolons can be easily confused with other pieces of punctuation, especially commas. Let's have a look at when we use semicolons instead of commas.

Both semicolons and commas can be used to separate items in lists. There are simple rules to follow so you can decide whether to use a semicolon or a comma:

  • Use a semicolon between long items

  • Use a semicolon between items that have internal punctuation

  • Use a comma between short items

Semicolons and commas can also both be used to link clauses together. Here's another list of helpful pointers so you know when to use a semicolon instead of a comma:

  • Semicolons link two independent clauses together without the use of a conjunction

  • Semicolons link two independent clauses together with a conjunctive adverb

  • Commas link independent clauses with subordinate clauses

  • Commas link two independent clauses when a conjunction is used

  • Commas can be used within a clause to separate phrases

Semicolons vs. Colons

Another piece of punctuation that often gets confused with a semicolon is a colon. They are two very similar pieces of punctuation to look at: the colon is two dots, one on top of the other (:), and the semicolon is a comma with a dot over the top (;).

The colon and semicolon can both be used in lists, but for different purposes:

  • Colons introduce lists

  • Semicolons separate longer items within a list

Colons and semicolons can also both be used to connect related clauses:

  • Semicolons connect two independent clauses without a conjunction

    • E.g. The weather kept getting worse; storms were meant to hit in the evening.

  • Semicolons connect two independent clauses with a conjunctive adverb

    • E.g. The weather kept getting worse; however, the forecast said it was meant to brighten up.

  • Colons connect a second sentence or statement to a first one

    • E.g. The weather kept getting worse: Jenny had to change her plans.

Semicolons - Key Takeaways

  • A semicolon is a punctuation mark represented by a comma with a dot directly over it (;).
  • Semicolons can be used to separate long items or items with internal punctuation in a list, to connect two independent clauses in a sentence, and connect two independent clauses with a conjunctive adverb.
  • Semicolons and commas differ because:
    • A semicolon can be used to separate long items in a list, while a comma can be used to separate short items in a list.
    • Semicolons can link two independent clauses, while a comma can link dependent and independent clauses.
  • Semicolons and colons differ because:
    • Semicolons can separate long items in a list, while colons introduce a list.
    • Semicolons can connect two independent clauses without a conjunction or a conjunctive adverb, while a colon can connect two independent clauses or sentences.

Frequently Asked Questions about Semicolons

A semicolon can be used to connect two related independent clauses without a coordinating conjunction. 


For example, 'Painting is a trial and error process; mistakes are part of learning different techniques.'

A semicolon is a piece of punctuation used to separate large items in a list or to connect two related independent clauses.

Semicolons have three purposes:

- to separate longer items within a list

- to link two independent related clauses without a coordinating conjunction

- to link two independent related clauses with a conjunctive adverb

A semicolon can be used either in between two complete independent clauses, or between long items in a written list.

A semicolon can be used to separate long items or items with internal punctuation in a list; to connect two related independent clauses without a coordinating conjunction; or to connect two related independent clauses with a conjunctive adverb.

Final Semicolons Quiz

Question

What does a semicolon look like?

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Answer

A comma with a dot over the top ;

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Question

Which of these is a semicolon?

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Answer

;

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Question

Which of these is a general use of a semicolon?

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Answer

To represent a pause in speech or writing.

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Question

Where can a semicolon appear in a sentence?

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Answer

Middle

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Question

True or false: The first word after a semicolon is always capitalized.

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Answer

False

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Question

When would you capitalize the first word after a semicolon?

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Answer

When that word is a proper noun.

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Question

True or false: A semicolon can be used instead of a comma.

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Answer

False

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Question

Which of these isn't a use of semicolons?

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Answer

To introduce a list

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Question

When would you use a semicolon to separate items in a list?

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Answer

When the items are long, or if the items have internal punctuation.

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Question

Does this sentence use semicolons correctly?

Mike wanted to travel to Spain; Italy; and France.

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Answer

No, these are short items that should only be separated by commas.

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Question

What sort of clauses can be connected by a semicolon?

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Answer

Independent clauses

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Question

What is an independent clause?

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Answer

A clause that makes sense on its own, with a subject, verb, and object.

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Question

Why is this sentence misusing a semicolon?

Charlie liked to paint in his spare time; and draw.

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Answer

The clause after the semicolon isn't an independent clause. Semicolons should be used to connect two independent clauses.

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Question

True or false: Semicolons can't be used with a coordinating conjunction.

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Answer

True

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Question

Which of these sentences is correct and why?

A: Sami didn't want to go back to school, but he had been caught skipping too many times though.

B: Sami didn't want to go back to school; he had been caught skipping too many times though.

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Answer

B, because a semicolon shouldn't be used with a coordinating conjunction (but).

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Question

What is a coordinating conjunction?

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Answer

A word that connects different independent clauses in a sentence.

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Question

True or false: A semicolon can be used with a conjunctive adverb.

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Answer

True

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Question

What is a conjunctive adverb?

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Answer

A type of adverb used to link two independent clauses.

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Question

Which of these is correct?

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Answer

independent clause ; conjunctive adverb , independent clause

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Question

What's the difference between semicolons and commas in lists?

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Answer

Semicolons are used to separate long items in lists, or to separate items that have internal punctuation. Commas are used to separate short items in a list.

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