Using the Semicolon

"She looked at me; I was lost for words.”

Two common ways to use the semicolon

Use a semicolon when you want to form a bond between two independent clauses that are related to one another. In the line, “She looked at me; I was lost for words”, the semicolon creates a moderate pause that melds into the second clause and makes it clear that her look will be significant.

If you used a period to separate the aforementioned independent clauses, which could stand as independent sentences, you'd lose something. In our sample, the use of a period and a second sentence: "She looked at me. I was lost for words", seems to remove the close connection needed by the two clauses.

Before we move on, it helps to remember co-ordinating conjunctions also can separate independent clauses. However, if said clauses are separated by a co-ordinating conjunction (Remember, "Conjunction junction, what's your function"?), do not use a semicolon. Co-ordinating conjunctions include:

  • and
  • but
  • or
  • nor
  • for
  • so
  • yet

You can also use a semicolon when you need to make a list of things already separated by a comma, which occurs when listing items such as locations and dates. For example:"This year, I've traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Dallas, Texas."

That's just the tip of the semicolon iceberg.

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