How to use the semicolon ?

The semicolon has two similar major uses:

  • To join two complete sentences into a single written sentence when the two sentences are too closely related to be separately by a full stop and there is no connecting word which would require a comma such as ‘and’ or ‘but’
  • [It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.]

  • To join two complete sentences into a single written sentence where the second sentence begins with a conjunctive adverb such as ‘however’, ‘nevertheless’, ‘accordingly’, ‘consequently’, or ‘instead’
  • [I wanted to make my speech short; however, there was so much to cover.]

    Note: In these uses, the semicolon is stronger than a comma but less final than a full stop.

    There is a minor use of the semicolon:

    To separate items in a list when one or more of those items contains a comma

    [The speakers included: Tony Blair, the Prime Minister; Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer; and Ruth Kelly, Secretary of State for Education & Skills.]

    Other uses of semicolon are:

    1. Use a semicolon between independent clauses not joined by and, but, nor, for, yet, and so. Example: Read what you’ve written; don’t just pass it on.

    2. Use a semicolon between independent clauses joined by such words as for example, besides, nevertheless, etc. Example: I think he’s right; however, it’s difficult to know.

    3. Use a semicolon between items in a series if the items contain commas.

    Example: Winners in the competition were Bill, first place; Amy, second place; and Jeff, third place.

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