Punctuation : Meet the Semicolon


A period above a comma ;  There.  That’s the semicolon.  A sentence stops, thus the period, but it is still linked, thus the comma.

We only have three major uses of the semicolon. (See!  It’s already much easier than the colon.)

The Usual Semicolon

The most common use is to join two closely related sentences.  The semicolon is very similar to its cousin the colon in this use;  however, these two marks of punctuation have an important difference separating them.

The semicolon used alone to join the two sentences signals that the two sentences are of equal rank.  The two sentences joined with a colon are not equal in value although they are equal in meaning.

For example, with a research colon, the first sentence was your own thoughts;  the second was a scholar’s thoughts which you used as supporting evidence.  The scholar’s thoughts carry more weight than your own.

In the explication colon, the doctor’s medical diagnosis is given in medical terms;  however, his restatement that you can understand does not use medical terms.  You may personally find the second sentence of more value, but in the doctor’s mind the medical terms carry more weight.

We use the semicolon to signal that the two sentences have the same kinship (siblings or cousins).  Neither sentence is predominant.  They may work together to build a point, yet one is not subordinate to the other.

  • On Thursday we drove to Berea, KY; we used the interstate for the whole journey.
  • Last week, we drove to Greensboro, NC; we used state highways and county roads to avoid the interstates which were jammed with traffic because of accidents and road repairs.

Note Well:  In this use of the semicolon, NO conjunction is used.

Ticky Detail #1

When we join two sentences, we need two signals.  Usually, we utilize a comma with a basic conjunction (one of the FANBOYS).  (More to come on this.)  The semicolon contains its own two signals:  the period and the comma.

  • The colon contains two periods, which is akin to two signals.
Ticky Detail #2

Do not capitalize the second sentence unless it begins with a word that is usually capitalized, such as the pronoun I or a proper noun.