How to use Semicolons
I’m not going to lie; semicolons are tough. They are the single most misunderstood punctuation mark for native speakers.
Are semicolons even necessary?
If we’re talking about casual writing, texting, and emailing, then no, probably not. However, if you’re reading or writing professional documents, it’s probably a good idea to understand the semicolon. So, let’s take a look.
1. Special Relationships
On their own, the following are complete sentences.
a. I’m not going to lie.
b. Semicolons are tough.
With a semicolon, we can more closely relate these two.
c. I’m not going to lie; semicolons are tough.
Notice, in writing, there’s no conjunction between clauses with semicolons.
– I want to go to Guam, but my girlfriend would rather go to Hawaii.
– I want to go to Guam; my girlfriend would rather go to Hawaii.
Also notice that when speaking, most native speakers would use a conjunction before the last item as in the examples below.
2. The Super Comma
Semicolons are “super commas” in lists that already contain punctuation. Compare the use of commas and semicolons below.
– Last summer, I visited Paris, London, Tokyo, and Los Angeles.
– Last summer, I visited Paris, France; London, England; Tokyo, Japan; and Los Angeles, California.
Note that without semicolons, the sentences below mean very different things.
– I met a lot of cool people at the party like Ted, this guy from New York; Karen, Ted’s girlfriend; and Amanda, the tallest girl I’ve ever met. = three people
– I met a lot of people at the party like Ted, this guy from New York, Karen, Ted’s girlfriend, and Amanda, the tallest girl I’ve ever seen. = five people
3. Other Uses
Semicolons are used in a variety of other ways like programming languages, mathematics, emojis, and more. They are also used in other languages like Arabic, where they are upside down; Greek Church Slavonic, where they indicate a question; and French, when either a period or comma would not be appropriate.
It should also be noted that numerous authors and writers proudly avoid using the semicolon altogether. They certainly have their uses, but it’s unlikely they will be winning any beauty contests any time soon.
Like this example? Did I forget something? Get in touch and let me know!