English grammar

Module 13, Additional Punctuation, Lesson 2:

Semicolons

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English grammar

Definition: The semicolon is a mark that looks like a period above a comma (;). It signals a more complete break than a comma, but not as complete as a period break. It's a "halfway-in-between" mark. It's used to show that two sentences are related in some way.

Joining Independent Clauses Without a Conjunction

When joining two independent clauses to make a compound sentence, a semicolon can be used instead of the comma and conjunction. This only works if the relationship between the sentences is close and clear.

I brought my umbrella, but I left it in the car.
I brought my umbrella; I left it in the car.

Remember: Connecting two independent clauses with a comma is always incorrect and creates what's called a comma splice. One way to fix a comma splice is to replace the comma with a semicolon. However, it's best to use semicolons sparingly. Often it's better to use either a comma plus a conjunction or just a period.

Joining Independent Clauses that Contain Commas

If at least one of the independent clauses in a compound sentence contains commas of its own, it's usually better to use a semicolon instead of a comma between clauses. Doing so helps avoid confusion. Just remember to remove the conjunction, unless it's a transitional conjunction (you'll learn about how to use those in the next section).

  • Comma + conjunction
    My cousin just had a baby, and I hope to go visit her sometime this summer.
  • Semicolon with no conjunction
    My cousin, who recently moved to London, England, just had a baby; I hope to go visit her sometime this summer.

Transitional Expressions

You've probably already learned how to use transitional expressions to connect two independent clauses. Usually the first independent clause ends with a period, and the next clause starts with a transition plus a comma. Sometimes you can use a semicolon instead of a period if you want to show a closer link between the two clauses. If you choose to use a semicolon, the first letter of the transitional expression will be lowercase.

I have always liked bats. In fact, they are my favorite animals.
I have always liked bats; in fact, they are my favorite animals.
Hint:
There are other transitional expressions that can be used after a semicolon, such as however, moreover, and therefore, among others.

Series with Commas vs. Series with Semicolons

If the items in a series have their own commas, the series commas become semicolons to make the sentence easier to read.

  • Series with commas
    I bought a scarf in Paris, cheese in Cheddar, a painting in Toledo, and a pair of earrings in Munich.
  • Series with semicolons
    I bought a scarf in Paris, France; cheese in Cheddar, England; a painting in Toledo, Spain; and a pair of earrings in Munich, Germany.

Practice What You've Learned

English grammar
Directions:
Insert one or more semicolons in each of the following sentences by clicking the space(s) between the appropriate words.
1.
Officers; elected; for; this; coming; year; are; president,; Ann; Meyers; vice; president,; Maria; Garcia; secretary,; Tasha; Bartlet; and; treasurer,; Lisa; Gibbons.
2.
We; need; the; moisture; we; haven't; gotten; enough; rain; lately.
3.
Jill; enjoys; her; classes; in; biological; science; therefore,; she; is; considering; medical; school.
4.
Take; the; following; items; on; the; trip:; a; backpack; sturdy,; waterproof; hiking; boots; travel-sized; toothbrush; and; toothpaste; and; shaving; gear.
5.
It; is; a; good; time; to; stay; inside; the; storm; will; last; all; night.
6.
We; played; a; good; game; hence,; we; should; have; won.
7.
Opening; her; travel; bag,; she; inserted; her; socks; her; hiking; shoes; and; her; cosmetic; bag,; which; contained; a; toothbrush,; toothpaste,; and; perfume.
8.
There; is; a; big; difference; between; them:; he; is; cross; and; irritable; she; is; easy; to; get; along; with.
9.
The; wind; came; up; the; rain; began; to; fall.
10.
She; is; smart; indeed,; she; is; a; genius.
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