The semicolon is undoubtedly the dark horse of the punctuation family. Some people fear and avoid it, some use it incorrectly and others only know it as one half of a winky emoticon.
Live in fear no more! It’s time to embrace the semicolon – and we’re here to show you how. Once you add it to your repertoire, you’ll wonder how you ever coped without it. With a semicolon up your sleeve, you can tidy up the messiest copy and add variety and polish to your writing.
Separating related clauses
Sometimes you need a punctuation mark a little softer than a full stop and a little stronger than a comma to separate two related statements:
I don’t think she’s home. The lights are out.
I don’t think she’s home, the lights are out.
Enter the semicolon:
I don’t think she’s home; the lights are out.
As you can see, a semicolon is the perfect choice for linking two related clauses that could be sentences on their own. Semicolons make copy more readable by providing just the right length of pause. They avoid the repetitive, choppy sentences that can occur when you finish every clause with a full stop, yet they separate the clauses much better than a comma can.
Buffering connective expressions
As we mentioned above, sometimes you need a punctuation mark that’s stronger than a mere comma – particularly when it comes to connective expressions:
I don’t like grapes, however I do like apples.
Adding a semicolon here makes the sentence far more readable:
I don’t like grapes; however, I do like apples.
Always use a semicolon with connective expressions like ‘however’, ‘that is’, ‘therefore’ and ‘nevertheless’. And always remember to add a comma after the connective expression, to give it the separation it needs.
Segregating complex lists
Have you ever started a list, only to get to the end and realise it’s just one big disorganised mess of commas and words? Take the examples below, for instance:
Today, I am going to have breakfast with Sally, Jane and Emma, near the beach, lunch with Sam, closer to the city, and afternoon tea with Atticus.
On the drive, we will stop at Orbost, Victoria, Coffs Harbour, New South Wales, and Brisbane, Queensland.
Semicolon to the rescue!
Today, I am going to have breakfast with Sally, Jane and Emma, near the beach; lunch with Sam, closer to the city; and afternoon tea with Atticus.
On the drive, we will stop at Orbost, Victoria; Coffs Harbour, New South Wales; and Brisbane, Queensland.
Much clearer, right? The semicolon really saves the day when you need to segregate list items that have internal commas. Don’t forget, you still need to insert ‘and’ before the last list item.