Semicolon: The 2 Ways to Use a ;

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Wait a second. Did you just hear that?

Pick meeeee . . .

There it is. You heard it, too. Don't try to tell me you didn't. That was the sound of a semicolon in the throes of a self-esteem battle.  Poor semicolon, the most misunderstood punctuation mark.

If you're not sure how to use semicolons in your writing, you're in the write place (oops, sorry, bad habit). Read on for:

  1. Semicolon definition
  2. Semicolon mistakes
  3. Semicolon examples
  4. The 2 places to use semicolons correctly
  5. Semicolon writing exercise

2 Ways to Use the Semicolon

Semicolon Definition: What Is a ; (Also Known as the Super Comma)

Semicolon. A punctuation mark that is stronger than a comma, used either to separate two independent clauses or to separate items in a list when there are parenthetical commas present.

The semicolon is sometimes called a super comma, and rightly so, because it can act as a kind of upgrade when just one comma isn't enough or is confusing.

Why Most People Don't Know When to Use a Semicolon (;)

Sadly, many writers have a confusing relationship with the semicolon, not really sure how or when to use them in their lovely sentences.

Some have rejected it outright, including Kurt Vonnegut, who said that the only reason to use a semicolon would be “to show you've been to college.”

Don't worry, little semicolon. Your virtues will not be lost on this audience as long as I have a say in it.

Not sure you'll ever figure out how to use a semicolon correctly? That's cool! Consider using a grammar checking tool like ProWritingAid to tell you when you should and shouldn't use semicolons. Check out our review of ProWritingAid here to see how it works.

The 2 Times You Can Use Semicolons Correctly

In all seriousness, the semicolon is probably the most misunderstood button on a keyboard (except for maybe whatever the heck the little hat over the 6 is). When it's used properly, however, the semicolon can add beauty and sophistication to your writing.

There are two reasons you'll need to use a semicolon. Let's look at them both.

1. Use a semicolon to connect two independent clauses.

You know what an independent clause is, right? A clause has a subject and a verb, and if it's independent, it can stand alone as a sentence.

It can be easy to get caught up in the excitement of the semicolon, and you'll want to use it everywhere. Don't.

If you're going to use it, make sure that each clause can stand on its own as a fully formed sentence. If it helps, mentally separate the two clauses with a period to test their independence.

Justin didn't walk; he ran.

Justin didn't walk. He ran.

Or another example:

Martin squinted as he read over his news brief; he was in need of a good pair of glasses.

Martin squinted as he read over his news brief. He was in need of a good pair of glasses.

The semicolon in this sentence connects the two independent thoughts without bringing the narrative to a full stop in the way that a period would. A comma is completely inappropriate here because that would lead to a comma splice, and as we have previously discussed, comma splices are evil.

2. Use a semicolon in a list to separate objects that also have commas.

Semicolons can also be used as a kind of super comma, and should always be used in a list when separating objects that also have commas. Take the following sentence:

Diana included Athens, Greece; Paris, France; and Vienna, Austria, on her list of honeymoon cities that were not to be confused with their American counterparts in Ohio, Texas, or Virginia.

If Diana had included Athens, Greece, Paris, France, Vienna, and Austria on her list, her travel plans would be way more confusing. Using semicolons indicates that we can think of “Athens, Greece” as a single unit, even though there are more commas to come and more items in this list.

2 Essential Rules for Using Semicolons

In order to use semicolons properly when you're not making lists, it's important to remember a few things.

1. Each clause of the sentence needs to be an independent clause.

Let's look back at Martin and his lack of corrective eyewear.

Martin squinted as he read over his news brief; he was in need of a good pair of glasses.

We need a semicolon here because the first half and the second half of the sentence can both stand on their own. Independent of each other, they're both complete sentences in their own right.

What if we said this instead?

Martin squinted as he read over his news brief, wishing he had glasses.

“Wishing he had glasses” isn't an independent clause. It can't stand on its own without the first part of the sentence in front of it.

If you want to get technical about the grammar of this situation (and let's face it, I always want to get technical about the grammar of a situation), “wishing he had glasses” is a dependent clause. There's no subject in this clause, and so it needs the first clause, “Martin squinted as he read over his news brief,” to provide one (Martin).

In this case, where an independent clause and a dependent clause are connected, use a comma.

But if you do have two independent clauses (which you know, because you can split them apart into two separate, complete sentences), use a semicolon with confidence!

2. Use semicolons sparingly.

Okay, so this isn't exactly about being right. You can use a dozen semicolons on a single page of writing, and if they're all separating independent clauses or adding clarity to your comma-filled lists, they can all be correct.

But Kurt Vonnegut was on to something when he warned against the dangers of too many semicolons. I don't think you should cut them all out! But do use them with care.

It can get exhausting for your reader if there is too much going on in one sentence. If there is too much going on in each sentence for a full paragraph, that may result in reader mutiny, and you're going to have trouble bringing them back.

Use the semicolon to connect ideas that are related, but don't try to connect every single idea in a paragraph. Periods are your friends (at least in this context).

Ellie subtly flared her nostrils; the smell of lilac and lavender filled the air; it reminded her of her summers in the hills of Ohio; she and her cousins would make crowns of daisies and give them to their mothers.

For the love of God and the sanity of your readers, do not do this.

Ellie subtly flared her nostrils. The smell of lilac and lavender filled the air; it reminded her of her summers in the hills of Ohio. She and her cousins would make crowns of daisies and give them to their mothers.

Put the Semicolon to Use With a Creative Writing Exercise

Don't be afraid to experiment with semicolons. Sure, you might place a few incorrectly before you get the hang of it, but soon you'll be able to use them with ease. It takes some practice, but you'll start noticing places in your writing where a semicolon would add a welcome breath to the prose.

Do you like to use a well-placed semicolon, or do you agree with Vonnegut that they're unnecessary and pretentious? Let us know in the comments.

Need more grammar help? My favorite tool that helps find grammar problems and even generates reports to help improve my writing is ProWritingAid. It works with Word, Scrivener, Google Docs, and web browsers. Be sure to use my coupon code to get 25 percent off: WritePractice20

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PRACTICE

Practice writing with semicolons. Use the following creative writing prompt, using as many semicolons as you can; you can even create a couple lists if you have to.

Prompt: Billy is going backpacking through Asia and needs to get vaccination shots.

Spend at least fifteen minutes on this. When you're done, share your practice in the practice box below, and be sure to leave feedback for your fellow writers!

Enter your practice here:

Liz Bureman has a more-than-healthy interest in proper grammatical structure, accurate spelling, and the underappreciated semicolon. When she's not diagramming sentences and reading blogs about how terribly written the Twilight series is, she edits for the Write Practice, causes trouble in Denver, and plays guitar very slowly and poorly. You can follow her on Twitter (@epbure), where she tweets more about music of the mid-90s than writing.

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71 Comments

  1. Jess

    This is why I could never finish reading the Anne of Green Gables series. LM Montgomery sure knew how to do SEMICOLON SPLICES after the first book. We’re talking four and five independent clauses PUT TOGETHER WITH SEMICOLONS.

    *ahem*

    It is extremely annoying to readers. Go Liz!

    Reply
    • Elise Martel

      You mean like this one?!
      “Mrs. Rachel Lynde lived just where the Avonlea main road dipped down
      into a little hollow, fringed with alders and ladies’ eardrops and
      traversed by a brook that had its source away back in teh woods of the
      old Cuthbert place; it was reputed to be an intricate, headlong brook in
      its earlier course through those woods, with dark secrets of pool
      cascade; but by the time it reached Lynde’s Hollow it was a quiet,
      well-conducted little stream, for not even a brook could run pass Mrs.
      Rachel Lynde’s door without due regard for decency and decorum; it
      probably was conscious that Mrs. Rachel was sitting at her window,
      keeping a sharp eye on everything that passed, from brooks and children
      up, and that if she noticed anything odd or out of place she would never
      rest until she had ferreted out of the whys and wherefores thereof.”
      One sentence, people! Yes, I agree, the semicolon became the terror of those books. I think the reason she used semicolons with such rigorousness in this sentence is because Rachel Lynde thought in run-on sentences that just never ended. They connected, one to the next to the next. If she put a period in somewhere, someone else might actually get to say something. Fancy that! So she made her thoughts all one long sentence so that no one else could get a word in sideways or edgeways or any-other-ways. She practiced this, of course, by thinking in run-on sentences; her mind was one interconnected pot of spaghetti.

      Reply
      • Rebecca Foy

        I agree, guys; L. M. Montgomery did use semicolons a little excessively. (I have trouble with that, too; I tend to use these “–” and these “…” too much.) But she uses an older style of writing– a different style of voice that is rarely seen nowadays. I think that’s why I love her writings so much– the way she constantly uses certain styles of piecing sentences. It’s unique. It reminds me a little of my own writer’s voice. My mind is one interconnected pot of spaghetti, too. 🙂

        If you guys didn’t like Anne much, I would suggest reading some of the books Montgomery wrote later in life. (My favorite is “Emily’s Quest.”) You can tell her writing skills improved immensely over time.

        Reply
  2. Jessica Verve

    This is why I could never finish reading the Anne of Green Gables series. LM Montgomery sure knew how to do SEMICOLON SPLICES after the first book. We’re talking four and five independent clauses PUT TOGETHER WITH SEMICOLONS.

    *ahem*

    It is extremely annoying to readers. Go Liz!

    Reply
  3. Msadaku

    Many people in some communities today still don’t have their lives back in order; many lost electricity and still don’t have it back; many lost everything—literally, no home to go to. Many find their lives in the midst of a pile of rubble; many are unable to salvage their lives from there. Many lives are shattered forever.

    This excerpt came from one of my posts at http://msadaku.blogspot.com

    How did I do?

    Reply
  4. Msadaku

    Many people in some communities today still don’t have their lives back in order; many lost electricity and still don’t have it back; many lost everything—literally, no home to go to. Many find their lives in the midst of a pile of rubble; many are unable to salvage their lives from there. Many lives are shattered forever.

    Reply
  5. Write On Network

    Great post on my favorite punctuation mark! Can’t wait to share with our followers.

    Reply
  6. Write On Network

    Great post on my favorite punctuation mark! Can’t wait to share with our followers.

    Reply
  7. Mike Loomis

    I’ve read other posts about these little buggers, but THIS explanation with stick with me. Thanks!

    Reply
  8. K. Wodke

    Such a good article. Semi-colons have been an enemy. Maybe now I can make peace with them.

    Reply
  9. W. Bailey

    The semi-colon been ‘berry, berry goot to me!’, but not sure I been berry goot to it. I am old enough to remember SNL when it was really funny. The above line was originally: Beezball been berry berry goot to me.

    Billy threw the brochure on the desk and pounded on the desk with clinched fists. “I can stand to face down some cold-eyed snake; I can take down a gorilla with a pen knife, but I cannot stand even the thought of a hypodermic needle! Why do require these stupid vaccinations? Now I have to decide if I want to go to Asia more than I don’t want shots.”
    Billy had always wanted to hike in Asia; he had fallen in love with the area after seeing an IMAX movie about the area. He had set his goal for a two-month hike when he graduated with a degree in Asian Studies. His senior year he had begun the serious planning and saving funds. He set priorities; he needed air-fare; he needed clothing; he needed maps; he needed a really good camera; and he needed a passport and visa.He estimated the total cash he needed, and he divided each category of expense and started putting a portion of each paycheck from his part-time job into envelopes for each item. He left the passport and visa until spring.
    The passport was no problem; the visa was turning into a big problem.
    If he had counted correctly, he would have to have seven vaccination or booster shots. H was so frightened of a hypodermic that he had risked blood poison twice rather than get a Tetanus shot. He would gladly be sedated, but that would involve the placement of an IV in his arm. He did not want a shot to avoid a shot; he was smart enough to see the hole in that logic. What should he do?

    Reply
    • Suzanne B. Woods

      Hello W.,

      Reply
      • Suzanne B. Woods

        My guess you are a male from the content of your article. I believe your use of semicolons is OK. The only one I question is the one between priorities and he needed. Correct me; should it not be a (:). Your main character is quite the organized fellow doling out his paycheck in such a systematic way.

        Reply
  10. Mikki

    Billy’s gut clenched thinking of needles; he’d had real trouble with needles. Four years clean now, and off with his buddies to Manchuria after finally raising sponsorship.
    Manchuria! Manchuria is the very image of tough people; how could they even start to convince these people of God’s love?
    That is the place; Steve, Kindra and Billy had known all along. Now they couldn’t get there soon enough, to meet ‘Bodu’, waiting with space in his family yurt.
    In his mind Billy imagined sweeping bare spaces and howling wind. Nervously he checked off the simple packing list, took a breath, then shouted, ” Yipe Yiii Yeow!, pretending to hear his voice echoing across vast Mongolian spaces.

    Reply
  11. Davey Northcott

    This is a great post and I have to say I entirely agree. Semicolons are a fantastic tool for writers as long as they aren’t over used. Don’t be afraid of them! Semicolons can be beautiful too 🙂

    Reply
  12. Dawn Atkin

    Billy is going backpacking through Asia and needs to get vaccination shots.

    Therese slumped onto the couch.
    “Come on Billy; be a man.”
    “I hate needles; they hurt. I’ve always hated them. Why do you have to have so many? Surely they can put it all into one super shot.”
    “Oh for goodness sake, toughen up you pussy.”

    Therese smiled at Billy but she could feel her patience waning. She pulled herself up and grabbed her car keys off the coffee table.
    “Come on let’s go.” She pulled her raincoat off of the spindly Ikea stand and turned toward the front door.
    “Where are we going?”
    “We’re meeting Mum for lunch remember.”

    Billy grunted, picked up his mobile from the small stand in the hallway and followed Therese out into the sleet and foreboding grey winter day.

    “This weather is depressing,” he said.
    “Exactly. That’s why we’re going to the exotic tropics. Temples, and beaches and palms and disease. Ya hear me; disease.”

    Therese gripped the steering wheel; turned left on Grayson. She swung a sharp late turn in to White Drive. The back wheels screeched as they slid around the corner.
    “What are you doing? Where are you going?”
    “To the clinic.” Therese smiled a little, checked the rear vision mirror and accelerated into the middle lane.
    “What? No way. Turn back. You can’t make me do it.”

    Therese indicated left then sharp right and swung wide into the back corner of the clinic car park.

    “There’s some Rescue Remedy in the glove box. Have a swig. That’ll calm ya nerves.”

    Billy fumbled around in the dark and pulled out a small flask of whiskey.
    “That’ll do” Therese said opening the drivers door and pulling the keys out of the ignition.
    “A man’s drink.” She winked, climbed out and slammed the door.

    Billy was smiling. That’s why he loved her so. She’d had it all planned right down to the calming amber tonic that prickled feisty and hot down his throat.

    “Where would I be without you?” He said through the misty window to Therese standing at the front of the car with her hands on her hips; all nonchalant warrior and insistent.

    Billy took another deep swig, as any real man would, and with whiskey smile he joined his commanding Aztec princess for a walk through the sleet into the chamber of needles and pain.

    Reply
    • Abigail Rogers

      Brava! Very well written in my opinion. It reads a bit like a movie. Perhaps a little too much emphasis on the coat hanger, but the conscious placement of people, the “disease” comment, and the overall idea, are very good.

      Reply
    • Suzanne B. Woods

      Hello Dawn, I enjoyed your piece. I want to be a nonchalant warrior myself. I am not an expert, however, your use of semicolons seemed warranted.
      I am not sure what dialect “ya” comes from. Elaborating on Therese’s origin would make it less distracting for me

      Reply
  13. Abigail Rogers

    Billy sat in the hard chair awaiting his doom. There were no colors there; he saw only white walls, white upholstery, white pictures in white frames, and the ominous white of the doctors zipping in and out like flies in lab coats. “I shouldn’t be here. I shouldn’t even be here. This was a stupid idea from the get-go.”

    It was after watching “The Beach” two months ago; back when he still watched movies. Rick had pushed aside the bowl of popcorn and said, “Why aren’t our lives like that, like in the movies?”

    “I guess it’s because we don’t have the guts to do what movie people do. That and we’re poor; we’re fat; we’re lazy.”

    And that’s what kickstarted the whole crazy caper. The “backpack through the wilds of Asia” idea came from the movie, and once that idea was in their heads there was no getting it out. So they trained; they trained hard. Jogging once every two weeks turned into running every morning before work. Billy spent hours looking at photos of gibbons; he booked seedy cheap hostels; he purchased the most expensive backpack he could find.

    But the shots were something else. The white-robed flies looked more menacing the longer he looked at them, and Billy began to wonder if this wasn’t the end of the line for their dramatic adventures.

    Reply
    • Stella

      Hi Abigail,

      Nice work. Your use of semicolons was seamless for the most part. In fact, the first time I read your piece, I finished it before realising I was supposed to be looking out for semicolons. The only place it felt a bit forced was at ‘we’re poor; we’re fat; we’re lazy’. It would feel more natural to say ‘we’re poor, fat and lazy’, although your usage isn’t technically wrong since those three clauses ARE independent clauses.

      Enjoyed your elaboration on why Billy decided to go backpacking through Asia, too. You did a good job portraying the ordinary guy who wants to become extraordinary, with little details like the bowl of popcorn, or how Billy paid for cheap hostels but an expensive backpack. (In fact, do I detect a tongue in cheek jibe at how real backpackers spend their money?)

      Reply
    • WendS

      Love it

      Reply
  14. Michael Cairns

    Thank you 🙂

    Reply
  15. Sarah Hood

    Shortly after reading this post, I was writing by hand and accidentally wrote (or drew) an upside-down semicolon. 🙂

    Reply
  16. wkspizer@gmail.com

    Going backpacking in Nepal, Billy was required to obtain vaccination shots; his fear of shots was almost overcoming his joy of the prospect of visiting Nepal. This land of
    supposed peace and love was a dream of his since his teenaged years; his life
    being limited as a child, he was now at an age where he could work toward his
    dreams coming true. Life was good; follow your dreams!

    Reply
  17. Dawn Atkin

    Also posted this in the ‘Bring Your Setting to Life’ practice, but thought it was a semi-colon practice as well so sharing in both. (…hope thats ok :-))

    The shock ripped through her; the floorboards reached up to grab her calves. His voice echoed down the greasy black of the passage way. Its eternal dark tunnel swallowing the acid bite of old man words.

    She stood alone. Solitary in the middle of the swirling room as it spun a tangled web of taunts from yester–years, and spat from its darkened corners and unpolished recesses, three generations of unspoken shame.

    “I’ve known for a long time,” she called into quivering walls, where peeling paint hissed and sneered at her claims. “I’m not going to pretend anymore,” she added bravely.

    The front door whipped open wide; its creaking rusted hinges rasped an invitation to leave; to walk away from the smear of past mistakes and lies. She obliged; lifted her skirt to her knees and took flight into the crisp silver promise of the moonlit night.

    Reply
    • Suzanne B. Woods

      Semicolon (;)Practice

      Suzanne B. Woods

      The
      news arrived on official State Department letterhead; all important notices to
      citizens were printed on impressive, government stationary. The message began
      with an urgent sounding note: “This notice is to inform you … In this case, if
      you do not submit a vaccination verification stating you have been vaccinated
      against the following diseases, your visa request will be denied.” Bill slowly
      pronounced the half-page list of prevalent plagues running amok in Asia.

      Bill,
      ace freelance photo-journalist, knew his face was flushing red-pink as he read
      down the inexhaustible list. There was a disease for every port of call he had
      on his news assignment: Istanbul, Turkey; St. Peterburg, Russia; Saigon,
      Vietnam; etc. “All those destinations; all those shots. Pulling a bandage off a
      scabbed over wound was bothersome but a half dozen long needled injections were
      debilitating.” He began to panic; heck, he needed to vomit.

      Reply
  18. thefeministgrandma

    I was really amused to follow a link to this post. I just finished final edits on a novel, and since I have a weakness for semicolons, I searched them. I was amazed to discover two or three on every page! I got rid of about 80% of them without much pain. But I never before realized the extent of my addiction

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Wow. That’s a lot of semi-colons!

      Joe Bunting
      joebunting.com

      Reply
  19. darkocean

    You are great at explaning what to do with this litttle bugger. “Use the semicolon to connect ideas that are related, but don’t try to connect every single idea in a paragraph”

    I get that. 🙂

    Reply
  20. Vincent Harding

    This site’s content is consistently making me a more knowledgeable writer. THANK YOU.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Great to hear, Vincent. Thank you for reading!

      Reply
  21. Gary G Little

    Enough with the semicolon, already. Enough comma splices.

    I need, desire, must hear about the interocomma, the interobang, the sarcasm mark, and above all else the exclamation comma. We could use them when the the old tired punctuation just does not do.

    Ok, dang, they ain’t in my fonts{exclamation comma} so what am I to do{exclamation question}

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Ha. I desire to hear about the interocomma and interobang too, Gary. You must write about it!

      Reply
  22. Suzanne B. Woods

    Here is my first post on this site.

    The news arrived on official State Department letterhead; all important notices to
    citizens were printed on impressive, government stationary. The message began
    with an urgent sounding note: “This notice is to inform you … In this case, if
    you do not submit a vaccination verification stating you have been vaccinated
    against the following diseases, your visa request will be denied.” Bill slowly
    pronounced the half-page list of prevalent plagues running amok in Asia.

    Bill, ace freelance photo-journalist, knew his face was flushing red-pink as he read
    down the inexhaustible list. There was a disease for every port of call he had
    on his news assignment: Istanbul, Turkey; St. Peterburg, Russia; Saigon,
    Vietnam; etc. “All those destinations; all those shots. Pulling a bandage off a
    scabbed over wound was bothersome but a half dozen long needled injections were
    debilitating.” He began to panic; heck, he needed a cold compress to soothe his
    brewing headache.

    To vaccinate or not to vaccinate was at the heart of the matter. Did Bill want to
    sacrifice for his art? Did not suffering add depth and meaning to his journalistic
    expression? Without further hesitation, Bill booked the doctor appointment to
    be needled and, perhaps, to be famous.

    .

    ere goes my first post on this site:

    Reply
    • Leo Sheppard

      I like your post; it’s well written and interesting. Also, I think you nicely demonstrated how good writers use the semicolon sparingly.

      Reply
  23. Diligence

    It feels good to note that I don’t make these mistakes, at least not a lot! Your site is loaded; I’ve been missing out on a lot.

    Reply
  24. Aniket Pandit

    As excited as he was for this trip, for all the laborious chores he had to do before he arrived at his destination (which he enjoyed nevertheless), Billy wasn’t looking forward to taking his shots. The mere thought of the syringe penetrating his skin terrified him; painful memories he had fought hard to bury, would resurface.

    Already feeling a little nervous as he entered the clinic, Billy walked up to the counter and greeted the old lady behind the desk.

    “Hi, umm, I’m here for my four o’clock appointment.”

    “Ok, first and last name please,” she asked him robotically.

    “Billy Connor,” he said. He still wasn’t completely convinced that he NEEDED vaccinations to go to Asia; surely he wouldn’t just drop dead the minute he landed without them. This thought occupied his mind in the background the entire time as he gave all the other details she needed from him for the appointment.

    “Please have a seat in the waiting area on your left, and the doctor will call you in shortly.”

    “Thanks,” he replied to the practiced smile she gave him.

    Billy walked on over to the waiting area and picked a seat most removed from everyone else. He wanted to be alone. Mostly because he felt that people would see immediately that he was scared if they looked at him. He was never really good at hiding his emotions and was a terrible liar according to his sister.

    As he sat down on the cold chair the uneasiness started to sink in. It never made any sense to him, but whenever he was in the hospital he would get this uneasy feeling as if something was about to happen. One experience can ruin a lifetime of experiences; especially if in that moment you lose someone you love.

    Billy pulled out his wallet and pulled out the picture of his mother. Something he did whenever he felt nervous. ‘Don’t be a funny bunny’, she would say.

    “Sorry mom”, he muttered to himself. “Can’t help it.”

    Reply
  25. Wanda Luthman

    Billy is going backpacking in Asia; a land known for its’ humidity and mosquito-borne illnesses. He needed to get his vaccination shots, but he was less than thrilled. One, two, three-BAM! One, two, three-BAM! One, two, three-BAM! The shots were done; his buttocks were sore. He looked over at his girlfriend who had a tear trickling down her cheek; she really hated shots. His heart swelled; she must really love me!

    Reply
    • LilianGardner

      An excellent example of how to use the semicolon, Wanda.
      Thanks for sharing.

      Reply
    • Abuian

      All good except for the first semicolon. Try an Em-dash after Asia.

      Reply
      • Clint Lowe

        Good spot, but easily done. It has taken me a while to learn the semicolon; I have found them hard.

        But it’s funny how as soon as you understand it, it seems quite simple.

        I went for a jog; it refreshed me.
        I went for a jog, refreshing me.

        Reply
  26. Niccole Coleman

    Love this post because semicolons can really “grind my gears”! But these are great tips that I’ll share with my other writing friends.

    Reply
  27. drjeane

    Thank you for this post. It does clarify use of the semicolon in a much more entertaining way than my APA style guide.

    Reply
  28. Courtnie Donaldson

    Billy is backpacking; through Asia and need to get vaccinations.

    Reply
  29. Daniel Robertson

    “For God’s sake! Have we gone mad Peter?”

    “Andrew, please, we talked about it thousand times; we need to test Billy in real scenarios”

    “Of course we need… but you know Billy is one of a kind; there’s no other robot like him. Those damned vaccinations are useless with Billy and Asia is much of a hostile environment for him. We don’t need to take that risk; we really don’t need Peter.”

    “Oh Andrew, Billy has succeeded in all previous tests. He has been a month walking through the streets of San Diego interacting with the people passing by, the bikers, the traffic lights; he has been even eating hot-dogs in the street — keeping the chewed hot-dogs in his flexible PVC-stomach, of course. Now is the perfect time to send him overseas; John already volunteered for backpacking through Asia with him.”

    “Peter, is about the vaccinations; there’s no need to inject them into his body”

    “Why not? Vaccinations will be administered here; I can’t think of a safer place to study any reaction.”

    “Please Peter, Billy has no meat, in the sense of muscle tissue; no blood, that can distribute the vaccination through his body; no immune system, that could provide antibodies or be debilitated.”

    “…then!? There will be no reaction. Where’s the problem?”

    “We don’t know how the vaccinations will react inside his artificial muscles; imagine for a moment all these pathogens running through his muscle fibers, or what’s worse, inside them! Reaching the complex electronic circuitry, it can lead to a muscle failure that we will not be able to replace in months.”

    “OK, you win! Forget the vaccinations for a moment and let’s move forward to reach the basic milestones set in the testing program for Billy; think of him getting on in a foreign country. He will be forced to use a foreign language, understand other customs and adapt his behaviour.”

    “This is perfectly right!”

    “That’s it! Is always hard to convince you, Andrew. Ok, should we proceed with the arrangements for the travel?”

    “Yes, but tell John he is staying here. I will receive Billy’s vaccinations and keep track of the fieldwork through Asia.”

    (I apologize for any mistake! I’m not an english speaker…)

    Reply
  30. seth_barnes

    Liz – you’re funny! I love the anthropomorphism here.

    Reply
  31. Theodora Chase

    Billy was going backpacking through Asia; notable not only for its overall large size and population, but also dense and large settlements.That explained why he was at a hospital getting a vaccination shot before he began the much awaited journey to the most populous continent on earth.
    “Deep breaths Billy, deep breaths.” The nurse soothed as she massaged his slightly exposed butt chick with her fingertips.
    Billy shook, highly terrified by the fact that in not less than two minutes his butt would be burning with immense pain; he was a man after all so pain was not much of a big deal.
    “Aaaaargh!” He screamed as the syringe made contact with his butt. With that out of the way operation Asia was a go.

    Reply
    • Abuian

      Love the “butt chick”!

      Reply
  32. Carole Worthy

    What you’ve just described as the work of the semi-colon, I’ve always thought was the work of the colon. I understand that you use a colon when an independent sentence adds to what the first sentence tells you eg John lost his book: it was the one he needed for geography. How does this differ from the work of a semi-colon (not including its use for lists- I’m clear on that).

    Reply
    • Beth Schmelzer

      You do not use a colon with an independent clause, usually. Replace the colon with the words “that is” and you will find the perfect balance for adding a colon. In your example, you would use a colon if you wrote: “John lost his book: the one he needed for geography.” Thanks to our guest blogger for this great explanation of the proper use of semi-colons: the unsuccessfully used punctuation mark.

      Reply
  33. LilianGardner

    Thank you, Liz for your post.
    I appreciate the semicolon and use it in all my writing, the way you explain ‘how to’.

    Reply
  34. Sarah Lentz

    I use semicolons, and I disagree with Vonnegut’s opinion on them. While they can be overused (as you demonstrate in this gem of an article), they add variety and contribute to a nicer flow, when used correctly.

    Reply
    • Clint Lowe

      Grammar is a killer for me. I’m finding commas much harder; it seems a lot has to do with taste. An example is your comma after nicer flow; does it need to be there?

      Reply
      • Pradeep

        +1 for the example and the question. Also, sometimes commas are used to indicate every pause in a sentence, which could irritate some readers, though others seem not to notice them as much.

        Reply
      • Zeek

        Good catch. “When used correctly” does not stand alone as a sentence and therefore is not an independent clause.

        Reply
  35. Bruno Della Motta

    This post is so beautiful! ♡

    Reply
  36. Clint Lowe

    Anyone else notice the mistake in the first quote? “Use a semicolon in a list to separate objects that also have comments.”

    Not sure if many ‘objects’ have comments; maybe they are a rare kind of object.

    But I should keep silent; my grammar needs lots of work.

    Reply
  37. Rando-kun

    Wait; what?

    Reply
  38. Pradeep

    Disqus doesn’t like me; it flags all my comments as spam. Wish the site owners would consider a different comment editor.

    Reply
  39. Zeek

    I used semicolons long before I went to college, Mr. Vonnegut.

    Reply
  40. Christine

    This is a good explanation. I’m an avid fan of semi-colons myself, for the simple reason that I detest “gunfire” sentences like these:

    This afternoon my friend Jane came over. We decided to go for a walk. She shared her concerns for her children. They are going through those “turbulent teen” years. We took the path through the park. There we saw three squirrels scampering around. The energetic little creatures were gathering nuts. Likely gathering their food supply for the long winter ahead. When we came home again I made tea. Good thing I’d baked biscuits this morning. These were swirled with cinnamon and brown sugar.

    Semi-colons help to avoid that “Fun With Dick And Jane” rhythm.

    This afternoon my friend Jane came over and we decided to go for a walk. Jane shared some of her concerns for her family; she has a lot on her plate right now dealing with her teenagers. On our way through the park we saw three squirrels scampering around. The energetic little creatures had their cheeks full of acorns; likely they’re gathering their supply of nuts for the long winter ahead.

    When we arrived home again I made some tea and set out the biscuits I’d baked this morning. I’d swirled these with cinnamon and brown sugar — a lucky choice, seeing Jane loves cinnamon. I’m partial to oatmeal-raisin cookies myself and had debated baking some of those, but at the last minute I changed my plan. Had a feeling Jane might stop in on her way home from her art class; she often does.

    Reply
  41. Dennis Fleming

    Nice, clear explanation and examples. Thank you.

    Reply
  42. Skryb

    Brilliant post!
    ^^^^^^^^^^

    Reply
  43. Paul Nieto

    a third way 😉 Just kidding; iT was a good article!

    Reply
  44. Paul Nieto

    A third way 😉 All kidding aside; it was a good and informative article.

    Reply
  45. Daisy

    Backpacking was a way of life for Billy; Thailand had been
    on his bucket list since he bought his first overnight pack. The Southeast Asian nation Thailand had
    become a popular destination with its tropical climate, unique food, culture
    and sultry beaches. There would be a lot of planning before Billy felt comfortable
    traveling through this small Asian country on his two feet with nothing but the contents of a pack on his back. Before
    Billy packed the necessities in his bag, he had to make sure he got the
    required vaccinations for his well being. Billy was stunned at the list of vaccines;
    some shots are required, and others recommended. He read that The Center
    for Decease Control, (CDC), recommends: typhoid, hepatitis A, and B, tetanus, typhoid; rabies is also a possibility.
    Malaria prevention is recommended although
    not usually needed. Billy was never very
    fond of getting shots; He was going to have to get over his fear of needles if
    he wanted to check Thailand off his bucket list.

    Reply
  46. Daisy

    I took a writing workshop this past summer.

    One of the young men, who teaches middle school, said that
    they don’t even teach semi-colons in school
    anymore, other than lists. He swears by the Em-dash. Short-sighted, I think.

    Reply
  47. TerriblyTerrific

    Okay, I think I can do this; wish me luck!

    Reply
  48. Priscilla King

    I like semicolons. (In blog posts, conversations, and first-person stories I even like comma splices if they “sound” like real speech; Anne Frank used them well.)

    My besetting sin: long, convoluted, compound-complex sentences that are usually technically “correct” but are burdensome to read. Writing audiotape scripts (the informative kind, not the story-of-a-chatty-character kind) helped me understand the need to write in room for breath.

    Reply
  49. Rose Green

    I’m a big fan of semicolons. They fill that awkward spot when a comma is too short but a full stop is too long. Here’s to their proper use!

    Reply

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