The semicolon, more that just a wink

Use of the semicolon has increased recently by combining it with a hyphen followed by a closing parenthesis to indicate a wink 😉 (tip your head to the left), but otherwise it is often avoided because writers aren’t confident how to use it.

The semicolon (;) is a delightful looking punctuation mark that provides a grammatical break that is greater than a comma, and less than a period (or full stop). So let’s look at some ways of using the semicolon.

The semicolon has only two correct uses, to separate independent clauses not joined with a coordinating conjunction, and between items in a series where the items themselves contain punctuation such as a comma.

Jim studied in the pub for his chemistry quiz; it was hard to concentrate because of the noise.

Recent sites of the Olympic Games include Athens, Greece; Beijing, China; and London, United Kingdom.

Sometimes when joining two independent clauses with a semicolon, we also add conjunctive adverbs or transitional phrases. In both of these cases, we separate the conjunctive adverb or the transitional phrase from the independent clause using a comma (yes, another comma rule).

The dark skies and distant thunder dissuaded Clarice from her afternoon run; moreover, she had thirty calculus problems to solve for her morning class.

The president will be attending the lecture; as a result, the vice president will be available for the luncheon.

In the first example, “moreover” is a conjunctive adverb. In the second example, “as a result” is a transitional phrase.

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Last updated: December 22, 2009
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