Semicolons: The Connectors

Learning Objectives

  • Demonstrate the standard uses of semicolons

Semicolons serve as connectors in two ways: connecting two complete ideas and to separate 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:

  • Anika’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 Anika’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.

The golden gate bridge.

Figure 1. A semicolon is similar to a bridge- it connects two independent clauses to form a connection between ideas.

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. The following sentence, however, has one independent clause and one dependent clause, so it would require a comma instead of a semicolon to join the two ideas:

  • Emojis are fun to text with, because I can show how I’m really feeling.

Semicolons also serve to separate items in a list, such as in a list of places or a list of duties on a résumé:

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.

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.

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