Writing Tips: How to use Semicolons


The use of semicolons can be very confusing to even the most seasoned writers. You would use a semicolon when a sentence includes two independent clauses that contain either related or contrasting ideas. You should not use a semicolon when these clauses are connected by a word such as and, but, or, nor, for, so, or yet.

It may help to think of a semicolon as a halfway point between a comma and a period. A comma indicates a slight pause, whereas a period is a full stop. The semicolon would be an intermediate type of pause between two clauses within a sentence.

Here are some examples of independent clauses connected by a semicolon:

Vicky had had experience dealing with celebrities in her publicist role; I couldn’t imagine what I’d say to someone that famous.

He was standing now; I could just make out his bored expression as he faced his entourage.

To avoid confusion, use semicolons within a list of people or things:

Patrick, lead singer and bass player; Jack, guitarist and back-up vocalist; Mark, the drummer; and Sammy, the keyboardist, had formed the group in Britain.

Use a semicolon to combine clauses connected by a transitional phrase or conjunctive adverb:

The band’s most recent album was a huge hit; as a result, the members were planning an eight-week tour.

I hope these tips have been helpful! Have a question about writing? Comment or email me at leslie@lesliewellsbooks.com

Leslie Wells has edited forty-nine New York Times bestsellers in her thirty-year publishing career. She is the author of Come Dancing, a novel about book publishing and rock and roll, set in New York City in the 1980s. Visit her at www.lesliewellsbooks.com

CC photo: Speedy Gonsales






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