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How to use a Semicolon

The semicolon (or semi-colon) is simply a break in a sentence that is stronger than a comma but not as final as a full stop.

By using the semicolon you can avoid overuse of the comma.  Semicolons are especially useful for separating items in a list or linking two closely related statements.

To link sentences which are closely related

If you have two closely related sentences, then the semicolon can be used to highlight their relationship while also adding some variety to your writing. For example, instead of writing:

I watched that new film about Giraffes. I didn’t like it. / I watched that new film about Giraffes and I didn’t like it.

The semicolon can be used, linking the related sentences and keeping the punctuation more interesting for the reader. Hence:

I watched that new film about Giraffes; I didn’t like it.

Using semicolons with otherwise, however, therefore…

You can use the semicolon as a link in sentences that use connector words like otherwise, however and therefore. Technically known as conjunctive adverbs, there are other connector words that can also be used with the semicolon: accordingly, besides, consequently, hence, instead, moreover, nevertheless, thus. For example:

I did not catch the bus home; instead, I decided to walk.

(Note how the connecting word is followed by a comma.)

Jonny Thunder thought his new song was the band’s best yet; however, all the other band members disagreed.

Using the semicolon with lists

You can use the semicolon to separate the items in a list where a comma is already being used. Some of the examples below also use a colon as well as a semicolon.

The band members were: Jonny Thunder, lead guitar; Filthy Pedro, vocals; Nathan Kidd, drums; and Jack Beako, bass guitar.

The four venues will be: 12 Bar Club, London; Sidewalk Cafe, New York; Hot Club, Paris; and Whelans, Dublin.

The main reasons for touring by coach rather than train were: it would provide more privacy for sleeping, relaxing and partying; it would allow more equipment to be carried; it would cost less; and it would allow the band to bring more roadies along.

Semicolon examples

The following examples show a semicolon used to separate two sentences that are related but grammatically independent:

Richard likes cake; Susan likes salad.

Bill was going bald; his hair was falling out.

I didn’t see the step; I’ve now got a bandage on my head.

The semicolon can be used like a comma in lists of items, especially when the list is complicated:

She planned to visit five locations: Soho, London; Brighton & Hove; New York, Mumbai and Hong Kong.

To play the piano well you need: a strong pair of hands; the ability to read music; and a certain passion to perform.

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