myQBook English Grammar Concepts

Semicolons (;)

Semicolons are stronger than commas, but weaker than periods. The semicolon’s main job is to separate things. Semicolons sometimes serve as a replacement for commas (see # 4 below). The following are different situations where a semicolon should be used:

1.       To separate two independent clauses that are very closely related.

For example:

Jean rappelled down the mountain as fast as she could; her friends cheered her on from below.

Here, the two independent clauses are closely related because they are describing the same scene. Therefore, a semicolon is used.


2.       To separate two independent clauses with the aid of a conjunctive adverb and a comma.

For example:

The recue team was large and highly trained; therefore, the mine workers were rescued fast.

In the above sentence, “therefore” serves as the conjunctive adverb. It is providing a transition between the two independent clauses. Conjunctive adverbs need a semicolon in front of them and a comma after them. The semicolon is used here with the conjunctive adverb and the comma.

3.       To separate an independent clause from an introductory word or phrase that introduces a list (some examples of such words and phrases are: such as, for example, for instance, therefore, however, namely).

This list can either be by itself or part of another independent clause.

For example:

Many people bring too many extra things on their vacations; for instance, plants, chairs, trophies, and candles.

Here, the first independent clause is followed by the introductory phrase “for instance”. In this case, the introductory phrase introduces a list. A semicolon is used to separate the independent clause from the introductory phrase.

The list introduced by the introductory word or phrase can also be part of an independent clause.

Consider the following sentence:

You should bring as few items as possible on the campout; therefore, plants, big tents, chairs, and candles should not be packed for the trip.

Here, the first independent clause is followed by the introductory word “therefore”. The introductory word introduces a list. This time, the list is part of a second independent clause. A semicolon is used to separate the first independent clause from the introductory word that leads up to the second independent clause.


4.       To separate items in a list that already have commas within them.

Consider the following sentence:

Jeffery traveled to Destin, Florida; Springfield, Illinois; Houston, Texas; Flagstaff, Arizona; and Sacramento, California on his business trip.

In the above sentence, the items in the list are cities and their respective states; they already have commas within them. Therefore, semicolons need to be used to separate the items. Otherwise, the list would be very confusing. In this case, a semicolon is serving as a replacement for a comma.


5.       Semicolons can also separate long items in a list or long independent clauses.

For example:

The fact that Jerry had known Marie for 15 years and had never been told that she was a secret agent made him angry; but she apologized to him after they met again.

Here, the first independent clause is very long, so a semicolon separates the two independent clauses.



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