Semicolons can be used in several different ways such as combining sentences or separating a series of three complex units.

When used properly, a semicolon enhances the clarity of a sentence and helps to convey complicated ideas in a more straightforward manner.

Semicolons in Place of Periods

A semicolon can be used in place of a period; in effect, the semicolon separates these sentences without the use of a conjunction. However, it is important not to abuse this use of a semicolon. A semicolon should only be used in this fashion when the second sentence is strongly connected to the first sentence such as when the second sentence addresses or expands upon a thought of the first.

  • Call me tomorrow; I will give you my answer then.

In the sentence above, what lies to the right of the semicolon expands upon information delivered on the left side of the semicolon.

  • I have paid my dues; therefore, I expect all the privileges listed in the contract.

In the first example the pronoun “I” was capitalized (as it always is). However, note that for this sentence “therefore” is not capitalized. It is important not to capitalize what comes after the semicolon unless it is a proper noun.

Semicolons for a Series

Typically a series of three or more items are separated with commas. In a sentence such as the one below, this is very straight forward and easy to see.

  • My favorite punctuation marks are semicolons, dashes, and parentheses.

Sometimes though, the items of a series each have their own comma, as is the case in the example below.

  • This conference has people who have come from Boise, Idaho, Los Angeles, California, and Nashville, Tennessee.

In this sentence it is not correct to use commas to separate the items of the series. Instead, when one or more items in a series contain commas, use semicolons to separate them.

  • This conference has people who have come from Boise, Idaho; Los Angeles, California; and Nashville, Tennessee.

It is important to remember that if even one of the items in a series contains a comma, each of the items should be separated with a semicolon.

  • Mary’s favorite dinner foods are chicken with Cayenne pepper; salad with Italian dressing; toast with garlic and butter; and soup with scallions, cheese, and mushrooms.

Notice how the first three items do not contain a comma, yet the last item “soup with scallions, cheese, and mushrooms” contains a comma. Because of this last item, the entire series must be separated with semicolons.

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Writing Studio, Kemp Library
Title of Department Leader
Director, Writing Studio
Sandra Eckard
(570) 422-3593