Semicolons: The Connectors

Learning Objectives

  • Differentiate the standard uses of semicolons and colons
  • Demonstrate the standard uses of semicolons

Semicolons serve as connectors in two ways:

First, a semicolon can connect two complete ideas (a complete idea has a subject and a verb) 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. 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.

Second, the semicolon can be used to hold items together in a list in which items have internal commas. For example, say you’re listing a series of cities and their states or listing duties for 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.