The rules for using a semicolon:
  1. Use a semicolon to connect two sentences together. These sentences should be related in some some way and conjoined with a semicolon to preserve the flow of thought rather than ending it abruptly with a period.

    I like dogs; they are loyal.

  2. Use a semicolon wherever you need a long pause or are ordering a complex list. Sometimes a comma just doesn't do it. I often conjoin two thoughts with a semicolon even when one part of the sentence or the other are not in themselves complete sentences. Sometimes, in a list of items, the listed items themselves require a comma, thus ruling the use of one out as a divider.

    I will be in Oregon on June 15th, 2000; July 22nd, 2000; August 31st, 2000 and again on your birthday.
As a writer, you control the rhythm and meter of your prose; the semicolon is a way to assist you in achieving mastery of writing flow and indeed does make you look quite a bit more astute than the next fellow. No help for it I suppose.

The semicolon is a little period sitting on top of a comma. The name 'semicolon' is politically incorrect because it implies that the ; is in some way weaker or insubstantial than the full : colon. However, anybody with sense can see that the "semicolon" is usually bigger than the colon, which is merely two dots.

In English, the semicolon has two major uses:

In Greek, the semicolon is a question mark--that is, not that they use a ? where we use a ;, but that they use a ; where we use a ?. Understand;

Hint for slackers:

If you want to benefit from the glory, riches, and inexplicable sexual attractiveness that using a semicolon brings, but are too lazy to figure out where to put it, here's a sure-fire formula:

generalisation; however, exception.

For example: I never upvote stupid writeups; however, this writeup is strong in the force.

Try it! Impress your friends! Enjoy your newfound intellectual elitism!

The name "semicolon" is not politically incorrect (yes, I'm aware the above was probably meant as a joke). The semicolon is in fact a weaker punctuation mark than a colon, or indeed a period; it is often useful in cases where a comma would be not enough, but a period would be too much. This is readily apparent if you read the sentence out loud in your head: for a comma, you pause for a certain amount of time x > 0. For a period, you pause for a longer amount of time y > x. For a semicolon, you generally pause for an intermediate amount of time s, y > s > x. , assuming that relative length of pause indicates relative strength of punctuation, the semicolon is betwixt the comma and the period in strength.

In addition, the comma requires a conjunction to join two clauses together, whereas the period ends a sentence entirely. The two clauses separated by a semicolon are generally not as related as two clauses separated by a comma, so they don't get a word to describe their relationship; the semicolon'd clauses are, however, not as unrelated as two separate sentences often are.

The semicolon is, incidentally, my favorite punctuation mark.

Sem"i*co`lon (?), n.

The punctuation mark [;] indicating a separation between parts or members of a sentence more distinct than that marked by a comma.


© Webster 1913.

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