How to Use Semicolons

A memory trick and helpful chart so you can remember how to use semicolons.

Mignon Fogarty,
September 22, 2009
Episode #189

Page 1 of 4

Surprise! You get a bonus show today because Thursday is National Punctuation Day.

Today's topic is semicolons.

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

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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