It’s not a comma and it’s not a period. It definitely isn’t a colon! So, what is a semicolon, what does it do, and how do we use it? Here’s a simple, easy-to-read guide prepared by the team at Best Edit.
What is a semicolon?
A semicolon is a period topped by a comma “;”. Semicolons are punctuation marks known for their versatility but also their improper use. What do they do you ask?
When to use a semicolon?
Semicolons have different uses that can be difficult to pinpoint, so we offer you this comprehensive list with examples to follow:
- Use a semicolon to connect two related independent clauses without using a conjunction (e.g., and, but)
Some people like to bake their falafel; I like to deep fry them.
- Use a semicolon between two independent clauses connected by conjunctive adverbs or transitional phrases.
I like to deep fry my falafel; as a result, I have higher cholesterol levels.
- Use a semicolon in a serial list when the listed items contain commas.
I have eaten falafel in Sofia, Bulgaria; Rotterdam, Netherlands; Madrid, Spain; and Cairo, Egypt.
- Use a semicolon to make an old school emoticon “;)”, remember? The pre-emojis emojis? 😉
These are three of the most common uses of semicolons. However, semicolons are also often misused. So, when should you not use a semicolon? Let’s find out.
When not to use a semicolon?
Just like our micro-guide on commas, it is important to mention the misuses we often encounter while working with English as a second language (ESL) speakers. Here are three times you should not use a semicolon.
- Don’t use a semicolon when introducing a list. Use a colon “:” instead.
I have eaten falafel in different cities such as; Sofia, Bulgaria; Rotterdam, Netherlands; Madrid, Spain; and Cairo, Egypt.
- Don’t use a semicolon to connect two clauses joined by a conjunction.
Some people like to have their falafel with hummus; and vegetables.
- Don’t use a semicolon to connect a dependent clause with the rest of the sentence.
No one liked my falafel; even though I followed the exact recipe I found.
And remember, you never capitalize a word following a semicolon.
A semicolon is undoubtedly the fanciest punctuation mark in your writing toolbox. When misused, a semicolon can give your reader a bad feeling about your writing skills. However, when used correctly, semicolons will make your work sound more sophisticated. Semicolons give you a chance to play with new sentence structure and clause lengths, which will definitely impress your reader. Still not sure if you are using semicolons correctly? You can always contact us and find out more about the services we offer.
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