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Writing Tips: How to Use Semicolons

Author:

I'm a dental hygienist, pyrography artist, avid gardener, writer, vegetarian, world traveler, and many other things!

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To be honest, most of what I remember about grammar class is being confused, trying to learn what all the big terminology meant, and spelling the word grammar wrong so many times I finally learned how to spell it by the end of high school. Yup, I used to spell it grammer [sic]. None of you spell it like that (never!)

Well, our topic today is semicolons. Semicolons are virtually an endangered species (in the world of grammar, of course.) They've gotten a bad rap, and I'm not sure why, but it might have to do with the silly way grammar is taught. I personally don't remember learning them in school at all. I did, however, learn a bunch of words that are semi-useless. Fair trade!

For whatever reason, semicolons are often misunderstood, chastised, and even feared! They may appear to be evil, dripping-toothed monsters, but really they're cute and cuddly. Well, maybe not cute, but definitely cuddly. Well, maybe not cuddly in your sense of the word, but definitely useful! By the end of this hub, we'll agree on that. Let's go!

Proper Usage

The word semicolon used to have a hyphen (-) between the words semi and colon, though now semicolons are so commonplace we combine the two words into one. Either way is correct, though adding a hyphen is, well, more work. I'm a lover of hyphens, but honestly, "semicolon" looks better bare.


Words that come after semicolons are not capitalized unless they're proper nouns (names of people, places, or things.) There are no spaces before the semicolon, and just one space after.

Correct:

  • I'm so excited; it's another grammar lesson. *Woot!*
  • I'm reading a hub on semicolons; I'll soon be Master Chief!

Incorrect:

  • I'm so excited ; It's another grammar lesson. *Crickets*
  • I'm reading a hub on semicolons ;This is going to be useful.


Semicolons go outside parentheses and quotation marks when they come at the end of the parentheses or quote. Yes, it looks ugly after the quotation marks, but that's the way it is!

Correct:

  • Kate thinks grammar "is fun"; however, some people think she's crazy.
  • She didn't always find grammar easy (parts of it are difficult); but her love of the English language kept her going.

Incorrect:

  • Kate "likes using semicolons;" however, this sentence makes her cringe.
  • She loves to read (it's important to writing;) however, it's hard to read this sentence.

Lists ("Series")

Semicolons are used to separate items in a list where other punctuation is present.

Examples:

  • Semicolons are semi-popular in these famous cities: Paris, France; London, England; and New York, USA.
  • Kate has multiple interests: Grammar, which you already know about; rock wall climbing, which is harder than it sounds; and reading, which is actually really important to writing.

Between Related Simple Sentences ("Independent Clauses")

Semicolons are used to separate two simple sentences that are related to one another. This is where people start freaking out, but hang in there; you'll get it!

Examples:

  • It's the end of the world as we know it; I feel fine.
  • I used to spell "grammar" wrong; now I spell it correctly.
  • I told you this would be easy; look how well you're doing!


If you're having trouble with it, rearrange the way you think about it. Come up with two complete simple sentences that are related to one another. By related, I mean they both work together to form an entire picture. Write them like this:

  • This is one simple sentence.
  • It's followed by a second simple sentence.

Now combine them together. Instead of putting a period after the first sentence, put a semicolon! Don't forget to follow the rules.

  • This is one simple sentence; it's followed by a second simple sentence.

Semicolon Quiz

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. Which sentence uses the semicolon Correctly?
    • This one is easy ;You better get this right!
    • Of course I'll get it correct; I'm the Master Chief!
  2. Which of the following statements is True?
    • Semicolons go outside the end of a quotation.
    • Semicolons go inside the end of a quotation.
  3. Which sentence uses the semicolon Incorrectly?
    • Grammar is fun; I like it.
    • Grammar is okay; It's useful.
  4. Semicolons are used to connect two related sentences.
    • False
    • True

Answer Key

  1. Of course I'll get it correct; I'm the Master Chief!
  2. Semicolons go outside the end of a quotation.
  3. Grammar is okay; It's useful.
  4. True

Interpreting Your Score

If you got between 0 and 1 correct answer: Go Back And Read This Hub Again! :)

If you got 2 correct answers: You're Doing Okay, Stick With It! :)

If you got 3 correct answers: You're Well On Your Way To Semicolon Genius! :)

If you got 4 correct answers: You're The Master Chief Of Semicolons! Wooot! :)

Simple Sentences Linked By Transitional Words

Like we just learned above, two simple sentences that are related to one another can be linked by using a semicolon. Similarly, two related sentences can be linked where there are transitional words.

Some transitional words:

  • However
  • Of course
  • Thus
  • Hence
  • Accordingly
  • In summary


Examples:

  • Everyone thinks using semicolons is hard; of course, it's actually easy.
  • You thought this would take you forever; in fact, it's gone really quickly.
  • You've now learned all about semicolons; hence, this lesson is over!

© 2011 Kate P

Comments

atotsm from Timbuktu on September 23, 2012:

This will take me forever; I think?

Lori Colbo from United States on May 17, 2012:

Great hub. It sure brought clarity for me. Thanks.

Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on May 10, 2012:

I'm not sure why people give up on the very useful semicolon, but to me there's really nothing that can replace it (well, other than re-writing a pair of sentences.) I'm here to re-establish the usefulness of the semicolon; it's great!

Punctuation is difficult, and even though I love it (maybe more than I should), it's taken me years of reading and keeping track of things to get this far. There's still a ton I don't know. Just work on learning something new every so often and pretty soon you'll have a bunch of new weapons in your grammatical arsenal.

Thank you all for the wonderful comments!

Claire from Lincolnshire, UK on May 10, 2012:

Thank you for this. I have always struggled with punctuation and grammar, due to disabilities; but your hubs explain them in a easy to follow and remember way.

Only earlier today I was typing and had a sentence that I wanted to use two commas in but I knew that wasn't correct so I ended up using a full stop. Next time I'll know what to do instead :)

Jim Higgins from Eugene, Oregon on April 16, 2012:

Well done, though I have just about given up the use of this mark.

Parks McCants from Eugene Oregon U.S.A. on April 07, 2012:

Much appreciated!

Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on March 07, 2012:

Thanks for your great comments. I should have another grammar hub out soon.

Nicole 75 on February 28, 2012:

Useful tips! Its very small things which most of us didn't remember during writing... Thanks for sharing...

htodd from United States on February 26, 2012:

Great writing tips ..Thanks

Justin W Price from Juneau, Alaska on January 12, 2012:

well, hurry back!

Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on January 07, 2012:

Thank you all very much for your comments; they mean a lot to me!

I'm taking a break from writing grammar hubs for now, but will definitely get back on the wagon and continue the series eventually! (Even I can get tired of writing about grammar, apparently. LOL!)

Justin W Price from Juneau, Alaska on December 06, 2011:

Faceless, he gave me an A but he was a moron. Nice guy, but completely apathetic.

Dr Manura Nanayakkara from Sri Lanka on December 01, 2011:

Nice grammar article, Please write more on english grammar. Thanks

Mark Bronze on December 01, 2011:

Very good hub, nice humor usage on a difficult grammar topic. I liked it a lot. Your hubs on grammar are all excellent.

Jason Poquette from Whitinsville, MA on November 29, 2011:

I love this article and the series of articles you have written on grammar! The fact that the semicolon goes outside the parentheses or quotation marks is something I had forgotten, or simply never learned. Thanks!

Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on November 19, 2011:

Semicolons officially dead? What an idiot. The less teachers we have like that the better off we'll all be. :)

PS: I'm a female, but you can call me "sir" if you really want to!

nomadicasian on November 19, 2011:

Very useful indeed, many thanks Sir.

Justin W Price from Juneau, Alaska on November 16, 2011:

u know, I had an English professor tell me that semi colons were officially dead. He was a terrible teacher, but he gave me an A anyway

barry1001 from North Wales on November 15, 2011:

You have a really good writing style; very easy to read! Great hub.

Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on November 09, 2011:

Ha, thanks you guys! Glad I could be of service to you. If you can think of any grammar topics you'd like me to cover, let me know! :)

Matt, I thought there would be more attempts at using semicolons here. Maybe everyone's scared. (Yup, that's a challenge, people!) :) PS: Thanks so much!

Matt Jackson from UK on November 09, 2011:

I expected more semicolons in the comments; I'm disappointed.

I'm not disappointed in your hub though. It is a great read and a topic very close to my heart.

Lateral3 on November 08, 2011:

Great article Faceless. I'll pay more attention to punctuation.

Ruchira from United States on November 08, 2011:

Woot Woot....Love it!!

ictguy from ictguy.com is my permanent location on November 08, 2011:

Really great hub :)

Nicole 75 on November 07, 2011:

Thanks for sharing such kind of information. Lots of people don't use the semicolons in writing.

krosch on November 07, 2011:

Thanks, for another great hub. I will be working my way though them in detail to improve my grammar skills. Thanks.

Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on November 07, 2011:

Awww, I was expecting everyone to use semicolons in the comments! Good job ShellbackJack and Phdast7!

Thanks all; as always I enjoy reading your feedback. :)

Theresa Ast from Atlanta, Georgia on November 07, 2011:

Great lesson on semicolons. In the academic world, where I do most of my writing, correctly used semicolons get high marks; I use them whenever and wherever possible. :)

Mary Hyatt from Florida on November 07, 2011:

I love to use the semicolon. I'm told by my famiy who helps me proof my stuff that I over do it, I should just use a comma. Another great lesson that I'll bookmark!

Keith Engel from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on November 07, 2011:

Another home run in the use of punctuation marks.

ShellbackJack on November 07, 2011:

Well faceless 39 it looks like you've hit another one out of the park; I enjoyed it.

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