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Grammar and Punctuation: Semicolons

Five suggested uses of the semicolon

Use 1: Combining independent clauses that are joined by a coordinating conjunction when at least one of the clauses is long or contains commas:

  • The sun had set; lights came on in all the houses.

  • The dam broke; the area was flooded.

Use 2: Separating two independent clauses that are joined by coordinating conjunction when at least one of the clauses is long or contains commas:

  • He overhauled the engine, repaired the dent, and replaced the tires; and when he had finished, he sold the car.

Use 3: Separating units of a series when the units themselves contain commas:

  • Maud, the violinist; Herber, the flutist; and Grace, the noted harpist, were waiting for their instruments to arrive. 

  • Several teams received yellow cards during the World Cup series including Germany, 2; England, 1; and Italy, 3.

Use 4: Signaling the approach of words that explain or specify. Some of these words are as, for example, for instance, namely, that is, that is to say, etc.:

  • There are several factors that contribute to obesity; namely, poor diet, lack of exercise, and portion sizes.

  • Some colours blend together very well; for example, brown and yellow.

Use 5: Separating two independent clauses that are joined by transition words: besides, for example, for instance, accordingly, therefore, otherwise, consequently, however, instead, hence, etc. Generally, a comma follows the transition word.

  • This book contains two tables of contents; however, only one is alphabetically arranged.

  • Children are basically honest people; therefore, it is unfortunate when adults teach them, by example, to lie. 

Additional Resources 

This guide was created/compiled by Amanda Wills and last updated by Claire Pienaar in 2021. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY NC SA 4.0 International License.