Semicolons help you connect closely related ideas when a punctuation mark stronger than a comma is needed. By using semicolons effectively, you can make your writing sound more sophisticated.

When to Use a Semicolon

Use a Semicolon to

Reason

Example

Link two independent clauses.

To connect closely related ideas.

Some people write with a word processor; others write with a pen or pencil.

Link clauses connected by conjunctive adverbs or transitional phrases.

To connect closely related ideas.

But however they choose to write, people are allowed to make their own decisions; as a result, many people swear by their writing methods.

Link lists where the items contain commas.

To avoid confusion between list items.

There are basically two ways to write: with a pen or pencil, which is inexpensive and easily accessible; or by computer and printer, which is more expensive but quick and neat.

Link lengthy clauses or clauses with commas.

To avoid confusion between clauses.

Some people write with a word processor, typewriter, or a computer; but others, for different reasons, choose to write with a pen or pencil.

Rules for Using Semicolons

Rule

Example

A semicolon is most commonly used to link (in a single sentence) two independent clauses that are closely related in thought. When a semicolon is used to join two or more ideas (parts) in a sentence, those ideas are then given equal position or rank.

Some people write with a word processor; others write with a pen or pencil.

Use a semicolon between two independent clauses that are connected by conjunctive adverbs or transitional phrases.

But however they choose to write, people are allowed to make their own decisions; as a result, many people swear by their writing methods.

Use a semicolon between items in a list or series if any of the items contain commas.

There are basically two ways to write: with a pen or pencil, which is inexpensive and easily accessible; or by computer and printer, which is more expensive but quick and neat.

Use a semicolon between independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction if the clauses are already punctuated with commas or if the clauses are lengthy.

Some people write with a word processor, typewriter, or a computer; but others, for different reasons, choose to write with a pen or pencil.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Incorrect Comma Use

Why It’s Wrong

Correct Semicolon Use

The cow is brown, it is also old.

Both parts of the sentence are independent clauses, and commas should not be used to connect independent clauses if there is no coordinating conjunction. This mistake is known as a comma splice.

The cow is brown; it is also old.

I like cows, however, I hate the way they smell.

The conjunctive adverb however signals a connection between two independent clauses, and commas should not be used to connect independent clauses if there is no coordinating conjunction.

I like cows; however, I hate the way they smell.

I like cows: they give us milk, which tastes good, they give us beef, which also tastes good, and they give us leather, which is used for shoes and coats.

It’s unclear what the three list items are, since the items are separated by commas.

I like cows: they give us milk, which tastes good; they give us beef, which also tastes good; and they give us leather, which is used for shoes and coats.

Cows, though their bovine majesty has been on the wane in recent millenia, are still one of the great species of this planet, domesticated, yet proud, they ruminate silently as we humans pass tumultuously by.

It’s unclear where the first independent clause ends and the second independent clause begins.

Cows, though their bovine majesty has been on the wane in recent millennia, are still one of the great species of this planet; domesticated, yet proud, they ruminate silently as we humans pass tumultuously by.

The cow is brown; but not old.

The coordinating conjunction but doesn’t require a semicolon, since the second part of the sentence isn’t an independent clause.

The cow is brown, but not old.

Because cows smell; they offend me.

The first part is not an independent clause, so no semicolon is required.

Because cows smell, they offend me.