Friday, December 7, 2012

Punctuation 101: The Semicolon

by Jill Williamson

It's time for another episode of Punctuation 101, where we talk about something that seems super boring but will really help you out as a writer more than you care to admit. Are you ready?

Today's lesson: The Semicolon

Easy peasy. You never capitalize the first word after a semicolon.

Where to use a semicolon
1. A semicolon is used to separate closely related independent clauses not joined by a coordinating conjunction.

Say what?

Basically, use a semicolon if you want to glue two complete sentences together that are similar.

Ex: "Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness." -Martin Luther King, Jr.

Ex: Ten finalists performed to be the next American Idol; only two finalists remain.

Ex: Mr. Sanchez is a successful chef; however, he won’t eat his own cooking.

Rules for this rule
An independent clause is a set of words that creates a complete sentence. If using a semicolon to join two clauses together and one or both aren't independent clauses (complete sentences), a semicolon is the wrong choice and you should use a comma instead.

You also can’t use a semi colon if you have a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or) between the sentences. 

If you put a comma where a semicolon should be, you will have created a comma splice, which is an icky error. Be sure to look carefully at all your clauses. If they are complete sentences, you need a semicolon OR a comma paired with a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or). If at least one of them is an incomplete sentence, use a comma.

2. A semicolon is also used between items in a series that contain internal punctuation.

That means, if you're listing things, and you use some commas along with one of the items, that messes up your list. In that case, you can use semicolons to separate your items and commas in each item where you need them.

Ex: I ate berries; toast; eggs, hashbrowns, and bacon; and a smoothie for breakfast.

Ex: Some fantasy novels that are big right now are Harry Potter, staring the boy wizard with a lightning bolt scar; Eragon, where a young boy becomes a dragon rider; and the timeless Chronicles of Narnia, in which a group of children enter a magical land through a wardrobe.

Get it? Got it? Good.

Any questions?


  1. *Salutes* Got it.

    No questions! Wonderful nice and easy :D And the way you write it does NOT make it sound boring.

    Am I going to sound too weird if I say I was waiting rather anxiously for this post?

    1. LOL!

      Not weird at all. I'm so glad to have brought you this info in a helpful way. :-)

  2. ~Thanks for the info, Jill! Super helpful! I realized not that i`ve not used the semicolon before because i didn`t know what it was used for...

    1. Sweet. You learned something new! I feel tall. :-)

  3. I think you should publish a grammar handbook geared towards teen writers ;) I'm an English major in college, but I'd still buy it to have as a reference. You always make this technical stuff so interesting!

    1. Neat idea, Anna. It sounds agonizing to write, but it's a good idea. I'll file that idea away for later. :-)



  4. So I'll be honest when I saw the the title, I had a mini heart attack. I have a weird fear of punctuation lessons. Mostly because I know i suck at grammar and every-time I try to learn about it I get even more confused and stressed. So it was a breath of fresh air to read this post. You made it super shot sweet and to the point which was super awesome. Thanks for the post I really needed this!

    1. I'm glad it was only a mini heart attack! I'm glad it was helpful. Strangely enough, I can't remember learning any of this in 9th grade English class. I think I was too busy passing notes to my friend Kim. I got an A in the class, though. But nothing stuck. I had to re-learn it all when I started writing.

  5. That last point is really cool. I always thought using semicolons for lists was convenient, but incorrect. FREE! :)

  6. Oh good! I've been using it right all along :D

  7. Thanks for the tips, Jill. I only knew a tiny bit on how to use semicolons. I honestly wish teachers would teach punctuation more... Anyway, thanks for the post! :)

    1. You're welcome! I wish they would too, but I think many teachers are just trying to teach spelling. Lots of teens spell in text speech, these days. I taught a writing course one week and I've see the papers! O-o

  8. Thanks so much! I had been blundering about wondering about I had forgotten everything I had learned about them in my Grammar books, but now with your post it's like a wave of memories flooding back :P And thank you for explaining it so well! Sierra
    Keep growing beautiful!