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How to Use Semicolons

A memory trick and chart will help you remember how to use semicolons.

By
Mignon Fogarty

Today's topic is semicolons. I get a lot of questions about semicolons, so it's time to clear up some confusion.

Listen to the Grammar Girl podcast! Once you've mastered semicolons, check out the most recent grammar episodes from Grammar Girl below.

4 Reasons to Use Semicolons

  1. To separate clauses
  2. To create variety
  3. To emphasize relatedness
  4. To separate items in a complex list

Let's talk more about each of these techniques and how to use other grammar tools at your disposal to enhance your writing when it comes to semicolons.

Semicolons Separate Clauses

Semicolons separate things. Most commonly, they separate two main clauses that are closely related to each other but could stand on their own as sentences if you wanted them to.

Here's an example:

I have a big test tomorrow; I can't go out tonight.

The two clauses in that sentence are separated by a semicolon and could be sentences on their own if you put a period between them instead:

I have a big test tomorrow. I can't go out tonight.

Semicolons Create Variety

One reason you might choose to use a semicolon instead of a period is if you wanted to add variety to your sentence structure; for example, you might use a semicolon if you thought you had too many short, choppy sentences in a row.

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About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips network and creator of Grammar Girl, which has been named one of Writer's Digest's 101 best websites for writers multiple times. The Grammar Girl podcast has also won Best Education Podcast multiple times in the Podcast Awards, and Mignon is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame. Mignon is the author of the New York Times best-seller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing" and six other books on writing. She has appeared as a guest on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" and the "Today Show" and has been featured in the New York Times, Business Week, the Washington Post, USA Today, CNN.com, and more. She was previously the chair of media entrepreneurship in the Reynolds School of Journalism in Reno, NV. She hates the phrase "grammar nazi" and loves the word "kerfuffle." She has a B.A. in English from the University of Washington in Seattle and an M.S. in biology from Stanford University. Mignon believes that learning is fun, and the vast rules of grammar are wonderful fodder for lifelong study. 

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