How to Use a Semicolon

SemicolonSemicolons have often been considered the “most feared punctuation mark.” But don’t fret too much: follow the rules for using semicolons below and you’ll do just fine. Truth is, once you get the hang of these puppies, your writing will see dramatic improvement. The next time you write, give semicolons a try. You’ll be glad you did.

Two Ways to Use a Semicolon
+To splice (or join) two related sentences
+To write a complex list where grouped items in a list use a comma or conjunction

The Rules for Using a Semicolon
+When splicing sentences with semicolons, a complete sentence (that includes a subject AND predicate/verb) MUST be on both sides of the semicolon.
Good Example: It was thirteen degrees below zero; trust me, the sleeping bag wasn’t enough.
Bad Example: It was thirteen degrees below zero and I needed; a sleeping bag and ten blankets.

+When splicing sentences with semicolons, both sentences on either side of the semicolon MUST be directly related and there should be a clear and logical connection between the two.
Good Example: Camping is one of Harrion’s favorite activities; he anticipates going weeks in advance.
Bad Example: Camping is one of Harrion’s favorite activities; Jenny used to make dutch oven cobbler.

+When using semicolons in a complex list, at least on of the list items should include commas or conjunctions.
Good Example: Brenda has lived in four cities: Dallas, TX; Jackson Hole, WY; Raleigh, NC; and Metropolis, IL.
Good Example: My favorite pizza combinations are ham, pineapples, and peppers; pepperoni and olives; and mushrooms, bell peppers, and hard-boiled eggs.
Bad Example: When I went to the store, I bought chicken; crackers; and cheese.

+When using semicolons in a complex list, the first semicolon goes AFTER the the first list item, never before.
Good Example: My favorite pizza combinations are ham, pineapples, and peppers; pepperoni and olives; and mushrooms, bell peppers, and hard-boiled eggs.
Bad Example: My favorite pizza combinations are; ham, pineapples, and peppers; pepperoni and olives; and mushrooms, bell peppers, and hard-boiled eggs.

When NOT to Use a Semicolon
+With a coordinating conjunction
Bad Example: I thought it would be fun to play in the rain; but, after I nearly froze to death, I changed my mind.  

Why You Would Want to Use a Semicolon
+Provide variance to sentence structure
+Speed up reading and mood of prose
+Make reading related sentences feel more connected
+Sound smart (many people don’t use them right, so when you do, you look brilliant!)

Try It!
+Splice two related sentences for sentence variety and flow
+Write a complicated list with commas and semicolons

More Semicolon Examples
As I was riding up the hill, on the horse, she jumped the creek and bucked me off; dust was all around me from the fall.
I want to go to Los Angeles, CA to visit my uncle; San Diego, CA to visit my cousins; and Memphis, TN just to hear the music!
She likes to write girly, romantic poems; short, informative blogs; and attention-getting, aggressive headlines.

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