How to Use Semicolons

Semicolons are often seen as impossible, but their rules are fairly simple. This is a grammar guide to using the semicolon.

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Semicolons—;—are one of the more underused or incorrectly used pieces of punctuation and they can be quite an intimidating thing to learn. But, like most things, there are a few simple rules, and if you follow them you will be using semicolons correctly.

A Break

A semicolon’s main purpose is to signify that there is a break that is stronger than a comma but less than a full stop. It is used to join two bits of writing that could be two separate sentences but are so closely linked that having both in one sentence is the better option.

He was from France; I’ve been to France.

I’m very good at fixing cars; I used to build them professionally.

In both of those examples you could split this into two sentences, but they work well as one so you join them with a semicolon.

Semicolons and Commas

You can also use a semicolon in a sentence that already uses commas. This one is a little more complicated to explain. In a sentence, you have your main clauses.

I like France, I like Germany, I like Spain.

If you wanted to add more information to one of these clauses you would normally use a comma to do this but because of the commas you have already used it would confuse the situation. So, you use semicolons for your main clauses and commas as you would normally.

I like France, I went there as a child; I like Germany, it’s cool; I like Spain, it’s warm.

This is primarily seen in lists; however, the same method can be used for a standard sentence that has a comma in it.

When I was young, I went to a football match; I like football.

Semicolons and Conjunctions

If there is a conjunction (and, but, etc.) you use a comma with the word because it is the conjunction that is merging two parts together instead of the semicolon. Removing the conjunctive word would result in a semicolon instead of a comma.

My dog is very fluffy, but I don’t stroke him.

My dog is very fluffy; I don’t stroke him.

Semicolons are not the easiest item of punctuation to wrap your head around. They are one of those things that spellcheckers don’t always check for and, even when they do, they don’t always get it right. Practice and follow the rules and you can pick up on when you should use semicolons quite quickly.

Davina Chime is a Thanet-born hopeless romantic.

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