What is a semicolon?
Semicolons can be used to:
- Connect closely related ideas. (Example: Some prefer the Lord of the Rings books; others prefer the films.)
- Link lists containing commas to avoid confusion between list items. (Example: I attended a seminar hosted by Alan Roberts, Professor of Mathematics; Rita Haywood, Professor of Chemistry; and Barry Grant, Professor of Physics.)
- Link lengthy clauses or clauses containing commas to avoid confusion between clauses. (Example: Many of my friends play SWOR, Skyrim, or War in the North; I, on the other hand, play LOTRO.)
- Imply a relationship between two ideas without actually stating that relationship. (Example: Instead of saying, “Danny washes his hands constantly because he’s afraid of germs,” you can imply this and better engage your reader by saying, “Danny washes his hands constantly; he’s afraid of germs.”)
When not to use a semicolon:
- When two independent clauses are held together with a conjunction (and, but, for, yet, etc.).
Commas vs. Semicolons
An independent clause is a group of words which contain a subject and a verb and express a complete thought (otherwise known as a sentence). Many independent clauses stand on their own as a sentence, while two independent clauses are sometimes linked together to form what is called a compound sentence. You can use either a comma or a semicolon to link independent clauses, so how do you determine when to use a comma and when to use a semicolon?
Commas are used when two independent clauses are linked via one of the following conjunctions: and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet.
Example: I didn’t have enough money to buy Skyrim, so I left the store empty-handed.
When linking two independent clauses without a conjunction, you use a semicolon.
Example: I didn’t have enough money to buy Skyrim; I left the store empty-handed.
(You would not say: I didn’t have enough money to buy Skyrim, I left the store empty-handed.)
Semicolons are also used when linking two independent clauses via a conjunctive adverb (an adverb which connects independent clauses) such as: moreover, therefore, consequently, otherwise, nevertheless, thus, etc.
Example: I didn’t have enough money to buy Skyrim; consequently, I left the store empty-handed.
Semicolons can also be used when linking two independent clauses via a transitional phrase, such as: in addition, in contrast, in the meantime, more importantly, for example, in the same way, on the contrary, on the other hand, that is to say, to summarize, by all means, of course, in fact.
Example: I didn’t have enough money to buy Skyrim; as a result, I went home empty-handed.