Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Two Minute Semicolon Lesson

Unlike the comma, which can take five minutes to explain, the semicolon is quite an easy punctuation mark. So that is why this post should only take two minutes to read. The semicolon has two main uses. They are used to join two independent clauses (minus the coordinating conjunction). They are also used to divide long or comma-laden elements in a series. Aside from its small role in bibliographic references, the semicolon has no other traditional function in English grammar.


When you use a semicolon to combine independent clauses, make sure that both of the clauses share a direct and logical connection. The second clause should either restate or emphasize the first clause in some way.

Professor Johnson believes that people should obey traffic laws at all times; the roadways, he says, are already dangerous enough.


Semicolons can also be used to set off items in a complex series. A series is considered complex if it includes items with their own commas or lists with a conjunction in each item.

Simple example with conjunctions
He walks and talks; chews and thinks; and runs and stumbles.

Simple example with commas
For the European Cup, football matches were played in Vienna, Austria; Basel, Switzerland; and Salzburg, Austria.

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