When do I use a semicolon?

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When do I use a semicolon?

This is a good question. And before I answer it, we will have to revise what an independent clause is.  An independent clause:

  • has a subject and a verb;
  • makes complete sense on its own.

Here is an example of an independent clause:

Atul made a presentation. This simple sentence is an independent clause. There is a subject (Atul) and verb (made). And it makes sense on its own.

How about this sentence? Although we finished. This is not an independent clause. Yes, there is a subject (we) and a verb (finished). However, it just does not make any sense! It’s a phrase.

Good. Now that independent clauses are out of the way, let’s get back to semicolons. Here are two common uses of the semicolon:

  1. We use a semicolon to connect two independent clauses:

Atul made a presentation; the client decided to accept our offer.

This is painfully incorrect:

Although we finished; I was not able to upload the file.

A semicolon is used for sentences that are closely related to each other. If the sentences are not closely related to each other, you can always use a full-stop.

  1. We can also use a semicolon to divide a list which has other punctuation marks in it.

Here is a list of the attendees: Mrs. X, CEO of Kaboo; Dr. L, University of Row; Mr. O, COO of Bow Wow.

Now imagine we replace the semicolons with commas.

Here is a list of the attendees: Mrs. X, CEO of Kaboo, Dr. L, University of Row, Mr. O, COO of Bow Wow.

Are you as confused as I am? I hope so… I don’t know whether the CEO of Kaboo, is Mrs. X or Dr. L or whether the CEO of Kaboo is another person altogether.

Semicolons are elegant and useful punctuation marks. Use them properly 😉

Author: amalfabian

I am an English language corporate trainer based in India. Am attracted to printed matter and I like to scribble sometimes.

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