- Demonstrate the standard uses of semicolons
Semicolons serve as connectors in two ways: connecting two complete ideas and separating items in a list.
Connecting Two Independent Clauses
First, a semicolon can connect two complete ideas (a complete idea is an independent clause, which has a subject and a verb and can stand on its own as a sentence) that are related to each other and/or equal. Look at this sentence for example:
- Tamika’s statue is presently displayed in the center of the exhibit; this location makes it a focal point and allows it to direct the flow of visitors to the museum.
The first idea tells us where Tamika’s statue is, and the second idea tells us more about the location and its importance. Each of these ideas could be its own sentence, but by using a semicolon, the author is telling the reader that the two ideas are connected.
Often, you may find yourself putting a comma in the place of the semicolon; this is incorrect. Using a comma here would create a run-on sentence. Remember: a comma can join a complete idea to other items while a semicolon needs a complete idea on either side.
Here are a few more examples:
- I had a salad for lunch; I wasn’t all that hungry.
- Joe went to the soccer field; Amanda decided to go to the library.
Both of these sentences have two connected independent clauses that could both stand alone as individual sentences.
Sometimes, we have introductory words or phrases in addition to two connected independent clauses. Don’t be confused.
I had a salad for lunch; however, I wasn’t all that hungry.
Sentence: I had a salad for lunch.
Sentence: However, I wasn’t all that hungry.
Incorrect: However I wasn’t all that hungry.
“However” is an example of an introductory word or phrase.
Correct: Joe went to the soccer field; at the same time, Amanda decided to go to the library.
The following sentence, however, has one independent clause and one dependent clause, so we can’t use the semicolon to join the two :
- Emojis are fun to text with, because I can show how I’m really feeling.
Sentence: Emojis are fun to text with.
Not a sentence: Because I can show how I’m really feeling.
Note: Never use a comma near because.
- Emojis are fun to text with because I can show how I’m really feeling.
You might also remember our introductory word or clause trick:
Front of the sentence, use a comma.
- Because I can show how I’m really feeling, emojis are fun to text with.
Back of the sentence, no comma
- Emjois are fun to text with because I can show how I’m really feeling.
Semicolons also serve to separate items in a list, especially when those items are complicated and might be confusing when listed simply with commas:
As a photographer for National Geographic, Renato had been to a lot of different places including São Paulo, Brazil; Kobe, Japan; Kyiv, Ukraine; and Barcelona, Spain.
Confusing and incorrect: As a photographer for National Geographic, Renato had been to a lot of different places including São Paulo, Brazil, Kobe, Japan, Kyiv, Ukraine, and Barcelona, Spain. Written this way, it sounds like Brazil and São Paulo are two different places, rather than a city within a country.
Correct: As an engineering assistant, I had a variety of duties: participating in pressure ventilation surveys; completing daily drafting, surveying, and data compilation; and acting as a company representative during a roof-bolt pull test.