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Semi-colons

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Tutor: Jonathan

Summary

Semi-colons

​​In a nutshell

A semi-colon is a punctuation mark that looks like a full stop on top of a comma (;). It is not as final as a full stop but stronger than a comma and is used to punctuate complex sentences. When used correctly, it makes writing clearer. 



Using semi-colons

The semi-colon is a highly useful punctuation mark. It can be used in a number of ways to make your writing clearer. Here are the five main rules:


Rule 1

A semi-colon can be used to join two main but related clauses in a sentence. The two main clauses should be complete and independent sentences, but closely connected in some way. Think of the semi-colon here as being like balancing scales.


Example

He was exhausted; he had worked late the night before.


In the example above, a full stop could replace the semi-colon, but the effect on the reader would be different. The semi-colon simply links the ideas into one sentence because they are related.


Rule 2

A semi-colon is often used to replace coordinating conjunctions (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) since the connection between the two main clauses is still clear without the coordinating conjunction.


Example

He was exhausted, for he had worked late the night before.

He was exhausted; he had worked late the night before.


Rule 3

A semi-colon can also be used before a conjunctive adverb. A conjunctive adverb brings together two complete thoughts (i.e. two main clauses) like a conjunction and connects ideas in a sentence. There are many words that can be used as conjunctive adverbs, but here is a list of some common ones.


List of conjunctive adverbs

also
furthermore
besides
nonetheless
finally
still
however


​​Example

He is exhaused; however, he has to work late again tonight.


Note: a comma is usually placed after the conjunctive adverb in this kind of sentence.


Rule 4 

A semi-colon can also be used when writing a list. Most lists can simply be written with a comma to separate items, however, when a list is more complicated, semi-colons can be used to make the list easier to read.


Example

I have been to South Korea, Japan and Taiwan; South Africa, Nigeria and Egypt; and England, Switzerland and Germany.


In the example above, you will notice that the items (countries) separated by commas are grouped together (by continent). Separating these grouped items with a semi-colon makes the list easier to read.


Rule 5

A semi-colon is not a full stop. Never use a capital letter unless the second clause starts with a proper noun (like a name) or the pronoun, 'I'.


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FAQs - Frequently Asked Questions

How do I use a semi-colon in a list?

How do I use a semi-colon in a sentence?

What is a semi-colon?

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