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PUNCTUATION > Apostrophe > Colon > Comma > Dash > Exclamation > Parenthesis > Period > Questionmark > Quotations > Semicolon

Punctuation marks: How to use the SEMICOLON

the SEMICOLONThe semicolon ( ; ) is used to signify a degree of separation greater than that indicated by the comma, but less than that indicated by the colon. The semicolon prevents the repetition of the comma and keeps apart the more important members of the sentence. The semicolon is generally used in long sentences, but you can also use it properly in short ones.

To distinguish between the comma and the semicolon is an achievement, a real test of understanding punctuation. Remember that the comma joins or separates parts closely connected; the semicolon joins or separates those loosely connected. The comma implies a short break in connection; the semicolon implies a larger break in connection.

Rules to Use the Semicolon

1) Use a semicolon to separate short members of a compound sentence, when the conjunction is omitted or when the connection is not close.

EX.— "I did not order for summer delivery; I ordered for immediate shipment."

EX.— There are no songs comparable to the songs of Led Zepplin; no singers equal to Robert Plant; and no guitarists better than Jimmy Page.

2) Use a semicolon to separate members of a compound sentence which are subdivided by commas, even when the members are joined by connectives.

EX.— Books are the food of youth, the delight of old age; the ornament of prosperity, the refuge and comfort of adversity; a delight at home, and no hindrance abroad; companions by night, in traveling, in the country.

EX.— A mist becomes a shower; and a shower, a flood; and a flood, a storm; and a storm, a tempest, thunder, and lightning; and thunder and lightning, hurricane and earthquake.

3) Use a semicolon between short complete sentences related in meaning or construction, but with no grammatical dependence upon each other. In some cases you can use a period.

EX.— I see the parade; I hear the marching band; I feel the vibrations of the crowd cheering in joy.

NOTE— If the sentences are short and very closely connected, you may use commas instead.

EX.— The drums beat, the banners unfurl, the band marches.

4) Use a semicolon after a complete sentence followed by a clause denoting contrast, inference, or explanation, when the clause is introduced by a conjunction.

EX.— It is in vain to gather virtues without humility; for our spirits dwell in the hearts of the humble.

5) Use a semicolon to separate clauses which have a common dependence upon another clause, either at the beginning or the end of the sentence.

EX.— The great tendency and purpose of poetry is, to carry the mind above and beyond the beaten, dusty, weary walks of ordinary life; to lift it into a purer element; and to breathe into it more profound and potent emotion.

6) The semicolon is used to separate coordinate clauses that are joined by a conjunctive adverb such as accordingly, also, besides, consequently, hence, however, moreover, nevertheless, otherwise, so, still, then, therefore, and thus.

EX.— He saw that the cashier had made a mistake on the receipt; therefore he returned the merchandise.

7) Sometimes careless writers, who do not distinguish between a comma and semicolon, commit what we call the "comma blunder." This occurs in sentences which break apart just before an adverb is used conjunctively. Be on guard against this fault when you use the words nevertheless, otherwise, so, still, then, therefore, thus, and the like. You may do one of three things: 1) make a new sentence; 2) use a semicolon instead of the comma; or 3) insert the word and as a real conjunction.

The following examples will illustrate the correct usages:

EX.— It was raining; so we went home.
EX.— It was raining, and so we went home.
EX.— It was raining. So we went home.

EX.— Stir the cake batter for several minutes; then set it on top of the counter until the oven is ready for it.
EX.— Stir the cake batter for several minutes, and then set it on top of the counter until the oven is ready for it.
EX.— Stir the cake batter for several minutes. Then set it on top of the counter until the oven is ready for it.

8) Use a semicolon to separate coordinate clauses which contain other punctuation marks, whether these clauses are joined by conjunctions or not.

EX.— He returned the hammers, the jigsaw, and the pliers; but, strange to relate, he kept the other tools.

9) Use a semicolon to separate independent clauses of unusual length, even though those clauses are joined by simple conjunctions and even if they do not contain other punctuation marks.

EX.— During the past month he has written to us several times about the mistake we made filling his order; and every time we have replied as friendlily as we could without admitting our error.

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PUNCTUATION > Apostrophe > Colon > Comma > Dash > Exclamation > Parenthesis > Period > Questionmark > Quotations > Semicolon

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