If there is a punctuation mark that would properly describe an identity crisis, it would be a semicolon. While a period is a piece of cake and a comma…well, not so much, but still manageable, so what is a semicolon? Something in between? Yes, that’s exactly what a semicolon is. Despite the complicated name and unclear purpose, there are few rules for using semicolons and they are quite simple.

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What Is A Semicolon?

How To Use A Semicolon

Semicolons can fulfill a variety of functions depending on the context of the phrase or sentences where you see them. Usually, people just ignore them while reading, paying less attention to them compared to other punctuation marks. However, everything is used for a good reason, and if you start paying more attention to semicolons, you’ll soon figure that they are actually very helpful.

To make sure you are using semicolons as intended, run your text through our free Grammar checker

Linking Independent Clauses

Semicolons can join two independent clauses. These are statements or sentences that can stand on their own, but when connected by a semicolon these sentences start to feel and sound better. This creates a closer connection between the clauses than a period would, emphasizing their relationship.

In the example below, a semicolon shows that the completion and submission of the assignment are closely related actions:

How To Use A Semicolon

Clarifying Lists with Commas

In lists where items contain internal commas, semicolons help to separate the items clearly, avoiding confusion and making the sentence easier to read. In many cases without semicolons, the list might be misinterpreted due to the internal commas within each item.

How To Use A Semicolon

Building Connections

Semicolons can link independent clauses that are joined by conjunctive adverbs (e.g., however, therefore, moreover). This use shows a relationship between the two clauses. For example, in the sentence below, the semicolon highlights the contrast introduced by the conjunctive adverb “nevertheless.”

How To Use A Semicolon

Enhancing Readability in Complex Sentences

In sentences already filled with commas, semicolons provide clarity by separating larger, distinct parts of the sentence. This helps the reader follow the intended meaning easier and without confusion. Look at the example. The semicolons clearly separate the different categories of the menu, making it easier to understand.

How To Use A Semicolon

Semicolons, when used correctly, of course, can significantly improve clarity and fluidity of your writing, effectively linking ideas and enhancing the overall readability of their sentences.

Grammar Rules: How To Use A Semicolon

Now, more grammatically speaking, the rules for using semicolons stem from their described functions. They are quite simple, and for your convenience, we give them in a table with examples.

Grammar rule Explanation Example
Linking Related Independent Clauses Use a semicolon to link two related independent clauses without a conjunction. 1. The proposal was submitted on time; it was approved immediately.

2. She didn’t see the sign; it was hidden by the trees.
Using Semicolons with Conjunctive Adverbs Use a semicolon before conjunctive adverbs (e.g., however, therefore, moreover) when they link two independent clauses.
1. I wanted to join the team; however, I missed the tryouts.

2. He is very talented; moreover, he is extremely hardworking.
Separating Items in Complex Lists Use semicolons to separate items in a list when those items contain commas.
1. The meeting was attended by Lisa, the manager; Tom, the engineer; and Carol, the designer.

2. For the picnic, we packed sandwiches with ham, cheese, and lettuce; fruit salad with apples, grapes, and oranges; and lemonade.
Between Independent Clauses Joined by Coordinating Conjunctions When independent clauses are long or contain internal punctuation, a semicolon can be used before a coordinating conjunction.
1. The conference was postponed due to the storm; and many participants had to cancel their travel plans, which caused a lot of confusion.

2. He studied for the exam; but when the day came, he was too nervous to remember anything.
In Complex Sentences with Multiple Clauses Use semicolons to clarify complex sentences with multiple clauses that are long or contain internal punctuation. 1. The project is due next Monday; the team needs to finish the report, the presentation, and the documentation by Friday; and the clients will review everything on Monday morning.

2. We need to buy some groceries: milk, eggs, and bread; cleaning supplies: soap, detergent, and sponges; and some office supplies: pens, paper, and folders.

Test Yourself

We understand that everything is simpler in theory than in practice. That is why you will find several sentences below for practice. Using your newly acquired knowledge, try to place the punctuation marks correctly. We promise, you will never be puzzled by this clever mark in the text again.


Rewrite the following sentences using semicolons where necessary:

  1. I have a big test tomorrow I can’t go out tonight.
  2. The cat is sleeping on the bed the dog is lying on the floor.
  3. We visited New York, New York Boston, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C.
  4. She is an excellent dancer she has been practicing for years.
  5. We bought apples, which are my favorite fruit bananas, which are her favorite and oranges, which are his favorite.


When should a semicolon be used?

A semicolon is used to connect closely related ideas in a sentence. It’s perfect for linking two independent clauses that could stand alone as separate sentences but are better together. Think of it as a way to show that the ideas are connected without using a conjunction like “and” or “but.”

What are the three rules for semicolons?

Here are the three main rules of proper semicolon usage:

  1. Linking Independent Clauses: Use a semicolon to join two independent clauses that are related. For example, “I went to the store; I bought some apples.”
  2. Complex Lists: Use semicolons to separate items in a list when the items themselves contain commas. For example, “We visited Paris, France; Rome, Italy; and Berlin, Germany.”
  3. Before Conjunctive Adverbs: Use a semicolon before words like “however,” “therefore,” or “moreover” when they link two independent clauses. For example, “She loves reading; however, she doesn’t have much time for it.”

How do you know if I used a semicolon correctly?

To check if you’ve used a semicolon correctly, see if the parts before and after the semicolon are complete sentences that can stand alone. Also, make sure the relationship between the two clauses is clear and that a semicolon enhances the connection. If your sentence passes these checks, you’re good to go! Additionally, you can run your writing through a free grammar-fixing solution (like AcademicHelp’s tool) just in case.

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