Monday, 3 August 2009

Grammar: Semicolons

This is an article from a forum post on, a great writing website. Thank you, crazeesharon!

My reference source authors to cover the main eleven punctuation marks in this series are: (1) Harold Allen; (2) William Strunk Jr. & E.B. White; (3) Susan Thurman; (4) Bonnie Trenga.


(1) Essentially a mark of coordination. Its use indicates that the grammatical construction before it is equivalent to the construction after it.

Use a semicolon between main clauses when no conjunction is present and the clauses are not very short.

Use a semicolon between main clauses when the second clause is introduced by a conjunctive adverb, such as: however, moreover, nevertheless, furthermore, consequently.

Use a semicolon between main clauses when commas break up one or both of them, even if a conjuction is present.

Ex: They wandered over the dunes, hand in hand, often shouting in sheer exuberance as the salt breezes whipped their hair; and then, suddenly overwhelmed by the emptiness of the island, they sat on the top of a dune and looked around for a long time, silent and somewhat sad.

Use a semicolon between clauses or other constructions in a series when the constructions themselves are subdivided by commas.

Ex: Schools may make you suspicious, not curious; cynical, not skeptical; passive and bored, not calm.

Use a semicolon before a word or phrase, abbreviated or not, such as namely, i.e., for example, e.g., or for instance, that introduces an illustration, example or explanation.

Ex: Most student clubs can't survive without a strong leader; for example, the Ornithology Club folded when its founder graduated.

(3) A semicolon signals a pause greater than one indicated by a comma but less than one indicated by a period. The most common use for a semicolon is joining two complete thoughts (independent clauses) into one sentence.

Often semicolons are used with conjuctive adverbs and other transitional words or phrases, such as ON THE OTHER HAND or THEREFORE. In this case, be sure that you put the semicolon at the point where the two thoughts are separated.

(2) If two or more clauses grammatically complete and not joined by a conjunction are to form a single compound sentence, the proper mark of punctuation is a semicolon.

If the second clause is preceded by an adverb, such as accordingly, besides, then, therefore or thus, and not by a conjunction, the semicolon is still required.