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Grammar and Punctuation: Semicolons

Five suggested uses of the semicolon

  1. For combining independent clauses that are joined by a coordinating conjunction when at least one of the clauses is long or contains commas.

    • e.g. The dam broke; the area was flooded.

    • The sun had set; lights came on in all the houses.

  2. Use a semicolon to separate two independent clauses that are joined by coordinating conjunction when at least one of the clauses is long or contains commas.

    • e.g. He overhauled the engine, repaired the dent, and replaced the tires; and when he had finished, he sold the car. 

  3. Use a semicolon to separate units of a series when the units themselves contain commas. 

    • e.g. Maud, the violinist; Herber, the flutist; and Grace, the noted harpist, were waiting for their instruments to arrive. 

    • e.g. Several teams received yellow cards during the World Cup series including Germany, 2; England, 1; and Italy, 3.

  4. A semicolon is used to signal the approach of words that explain or specify. Some of these words are as, for example, for instance, namely, that is, that is to say, etc. 

    • e.g. There are several factors that contribute to obesity; namely, poor diet, lack of exercise, and portion sizes.

    • e.g. Some colours blend together very well; for example, brown and yellow.

  5. Use a semicolon to separate two independent clauses that are joined by transition words: besides, for example, for instance, accordingly, therefore, otherwise, consequently, however, instead, hence, etc. Generally, a comma follows the transition word.

    • e.g. This book contains two tables of contents; however, only one is alphabetically arranged.

    • Children are basically honest people; therefore, it is unfortunate when adults teach them, by example, to lie. 

Extra Resources 

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