How do I use a semicolon?
Last week I asked for suggestions for blog posts, and Kate asked about when to use a semicolon.
The semicolon is a really handy punctuation mark, but lots of people are a bit scared of it and so just avoid it altogether!
Let’s take a quick rundown of the rules for using a semicolon – there are only two that you need to learn, so this won’t take long.
If you’d rather watch the video version of this blog, you can click on the image below.
What is a semicolon for?
Now you’re asking yourself, ‘When should I use a semicolon?’
Well, a semicolon has two functions in a sentence:
1 A semicolon separates two sections of a sentence which are closely linked.
It is used to show that although the sections (or clauses) are separate they have a connection. It can also be used when you want to further explain or expand on the statement in the first clause.
I don’t like tomatoes; I prefer a green salad.
It’s OK to use a semicolon when:
Using a comma instead of a semicolon in this instance would be considered incorrect; this is known as a comma splice. (See what I did there?)
Comma splices are sometimes allowed in fiction writing, where we can be a bit more lenient with grammar rules, but they are generally a no-no .
2 A semicolon can be used to separate the items in a list.
This is especially common when it could be confusing to use commas to separate the items, for example with a long list or when the list items themselves include commas.
The starters looked delicious: mozzarella, avocado and tomato salad; chicken satay skewers; sizzling chilli king prawns; and queen scallops with black pudding.
Notice that the list is introduced by a colon, and you mustn’t forget to use a semicolon before the final and.
So it’s really quite straightforward – there are only ever two reasons to use the semicolon.
I hope that’s cleared things up for you!
Worry-free Writing: how to use hyphens and dashes
Worry-free Writing: how to use an ellipsis
Over to you!
What do you think? Has that helped you get a better picture of when to use a semicolon?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this and any suggestions you might have for other topics to include in my Worry-free Writing series.
If there’s a grammar point you’re not clear on, or a punctuation mark you’re not sure about, drop in a comment below, or tweet me using the hashtag #WorryFreeWriting.
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