What are semicolons?

Today's topic is semicolons.

I get questions about semicolons a lot, so it's time to clear up some confusion.

Use Semicolons to Separate Things and Add Variety

Semicolons separate things. Most commonly, they separate two main clauses that are closely related to each other but that could stand on their own as sentences if you wanted them to.

Here's an example: “It was below zero; Squiggly wondered if he would freeze to death.

” The two parts of that long sentence that are separated by a semicolon could be sentences on their own if you put a period between them: It was below zero. Squiggly wondered if he would freeze to death.

One reason you might choose to use a semicolon instead of a period is if you wanted to add variety to your sentence structure, for example, if you thought you had too many short, choppy sentences in a row.

But when you use a semicolon, the main clauses should be closely related to each other. You wouldn't write, “It was below zero; Squiggly had pizza for dinner,” because those two main clauses have nothing to do with each other.

In fact, the other reason to use a semicolon instead of a period is if you want to draw attention to the relationship between the two clauses.

Now let's talk about the two forms of punctuation that are most commonly misused in place of semicolons: 

  1. Semicolons versus colons
  2. Semicolons versus commas

Semicolons Versus Colons

People often ask me what the difference is between a semicolon and a colon, and there are a couple of differences. First, the purpose of a colon is to introduce or define something.

For example, you could write, “Squiggly checked the temperature: it was -20 degrees.

” I'll admit that these differences can be subtle, but I would use a colon in that sentence instead of a semicolon because the second clause (the temperature) strongly relates back to the first clause (Squiggly checking the temperature).

Semicolons separate things. Most commonly, they separate two main clauses that are closely related to each other but could stand on their own as sentences.

The second difference between a colon and a semicolon is that when you are joining things, you use a  semicolon to join things of equal weight, whereas you can use a colon to join things of equal or unequal weight.

For example, you can use either a semicolon or a colon to join two main clauses, but you can only use a colon to join a main clause with a noun. Here's an example: “Squiggly missed only one friend: Aardvark.

” You couldn't use a semicolon in that sentence because the two parts are unequal.


Most commonly, the semicolon is used between two independent clauses (i.e., clauses that could stand alone as separate sentences) when a coordinating conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) is omitted.


The upperclassmen are permitted off-campus lunch; the underclassmen must remain on campus.

The example above could be recast with the conjunction but, in which case a comma, rather than a semicolon, would be required.


The upperclassmen are permitted off-campus lunch, but the underclassmen must remain on campus.

Technically, the semicolon could be replaced with a period, since each independent clause is a complete sentence. The semicolon, however, emphasizes the connection between the two clauses.

Note: When the second clause expands on or explains the first, the colon is the better mark.

The semicolon is also used between two independent clauses linked by a transitional expression (e.g., accordingly, consequently, for example, nevertheless, so, thus).


Heavy snow continues to fall at the airport; consequently, all flights have been grounded.

Hyperinflation makes it extremely difficult to keep track of prices; thus a quart of milk might cost $10 in the morning and $200 in the afternoon.

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The semicolon can also be used in lists with internal commas. In this usage, the semicolon acts as a sort of super-comma.


The new store will have groceries on the lower level; luggage, housewares, and electronics on the ground floor; men’s and women’s clothing on the second floor; and books, music, and stationery on the third floor.

When combined with a comma, the semicolon can be used in elliptical constructions. In this case, the comma serves as an ellipsis, eliminating the need to repeat an understood portion of the initial clause.


In 1992, Starbucks had fewer than 200 stores; in 2002, almost 20,000.

Some people brought food; others, clothing; yet others, merely a willingness to help.

Semicolons – Punctuation

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As announced in February, Walden University will use the new, seventh edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association as the accepted standard for citations, references, and writing style guidelines starting in the summer terms (May 4 for semester-based programs and June 1 for quarter-based and Tempo programs).

So, what does this mean for doctoral students writing their capstones? Students actively working to complete their doctoral capstone studies or projects will have a grace period during which they have the option of continuing in APA 6 or moving to APA 7. This grace period will end on December 31, 2020.

If a student will have final URR approval of their final study or project by the end of 2020 (after Final Overall Quality Committee Rubric Analysis and before CAO Approval), they have the option of completing that study in APA 6 or APA 7, and they should consult with their chair while making this decision. Beginning January 1, 2021, all capstone writers will follow APA 7 guidelines.

The Walden form and style editors will provide support for both APA editions beginning with summer term starts through the end of the year, with templates in both editions beginning June 1. They will also provide instructions for adjusting text in an APA 6 doctoral capstone template to comply with APA 7 guidelines so students in progress can avoid needing to start with a new template.

  • For the remainder of 2020, when uploading capstone manuscripts at any stage in Taskstream, committee chairs, second committee members, and URRs should indicate which edition of the APA style manual a student used in the General Comments section by writing “APA 6” or “APA 7.”
  • The Writing Center is providing webinars to help capstone students and their committees make the adjustment from APA 6 to APA 7.
  • APA 7 at a Glance: Changes and Support for the Switch for Doctoral Capstone Students
  • May 6, from 1-2:00 p.m. ET

APA 7 at a Glance: Changes and Support for the Switch for Doctoral Committees

  • Monday, April 27, from 1-2:00 ET

Update from March 17, 2020. Edited May 1, 2020.

What is a Semicolon? – Definition & Examples

The semicolon has three main uses that will help you as you learn to write powerful and exciting essays. Sometimes we think of it as the super comma because it tells the reader to make more of a stop when reading.

The Semicolon

First Use

A semicolon is used is to join together two sentences that are related.

For example:

  • She ran quickly down the street; the yapping dog was right on her heels.
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In this example we see that the first half of the sentence, 'She ran quickly down the street,' is a complete thought. It could be a sentence on its own.

If we look at the second half of the sentence, 'the yapping dog was right on her heels,' we know it too could be a stand alone sentence.

When we put the two sentences together, they are joined by the semicolon, which tells us that they are directly related.

So we can join the girl running and the dog yapping right on her heels with a semicolon. You have to use two independent clauses, or complete thoughts.

Your second thought can't be dependent on the first. In that case, you'll need to use a comma or a colon.

Ok, so that is one example to get you started; let's try another (notice the semicolon).

  • He loves to drive his car with the top down; it makes him feel free and alive.

In this example there are, once again, two parts to the sentence that are connected.

  • He loves to drive his car with the top down
  • It makes him feel free and alive

It is the fact that they are related that prompts us to join them together with a semicolon. Only related sentences can be joined this way–you can't use a semicolon if they have nothing to do with one another.

Second Use

A semicolon can also join forces with a transition, usually a conjunctive adverb, to link two sentences that go together.

Take a look at this:

  • The yapping dog was right on her heels; however, she made it in the house before it caught her.

In this example, we can see that these are each complete thoughts, but we have used the conjunctive adverb however to join them together. When we join the sentences with a conjunctive adverb we put a semicolon before the conjunctive adverb and a comma after.

  • The yapping dog was right on her heels–this can stand on its own as a sentence.
  • She made it to the house before it caught her–this can also stand alone.
  • We joined them together with however which shows their connection.

Let's look at one more just to make sure you have it.

  • He loves to drive his car with the top down; however, it can be difficult when it starts to rain.


It's no accident that a semicolon is a period atop a comma. Like commas, semicolons indicate an audible pause—slightly longer than a comma's, but short of a period's full stop.

Semicolons have other functions, too. But first, a caveat: avoid the common mistake of using a semicolon to replace a colon (see the “Colons” section).

Incorrect: I have one goal; to find her. Correct: I have one goal: to find her.

Rule 1a. A semicolon can replace a period if the writer wishes to narrow the gap between two closely linked sentences.

Examples: Call me tomorrow; you can give me an answer then. We have paid our dues; we expect all the privileges listed in the contract.

Rule 1b. Avoid a semicolon when a dependent clause comes before an independent clause.

Incorrect: Although they tried; they failed. Correct: Although they tried, they failed.

Rule 2. Use a semicolon before such words and terms as namely, however, therefore, that is, i.e., for example, e.g., for instance, etc., when they introduce a complete sentence. It is also preferable to use a comma after these words and terms.

Example: Bring any two items; however, sleeping bags and tents are in short supply.

See also:  ‘racket’ or ‘racquet’?

Rule 3. Use a semicolon to separate units of a series when one or more of the units contain commas.

Incorrect: The conference has people who have come from Moscow, Idaho, Springfield, California, Alamo, Tennessee, and other places as well.

Note that with only commas, that sentence is hopeless.

Correct: The conference has people who have come from Moscow, Idaho; Springfield, California; Alamo, Tennessee; and other places as well. (Note the final semicolon, rather than a comma, after Tennessee.)

Rule 4. A semicolon may be used between independent clauses joined by a connector, such as and, but, or, nor, etc., when one or more commas appear in the first clause.

Example: When I finish here, and I will soon, I'll be glad to help you; and that is a promise I will keep.

Rule 5. Do not capitalize ordinary words after a semicolon.

Incorrect: I am here; You are over there. Correct: I am here; you are over there.

What Are Semicolons? (with Examples)

by Craig Shrives A semicolon (;) is a punctuation mark used:

  • In complex lists
  • When a slight break is preferable to new sentence
  • Before conjunctions (e.g., and, or, but) in certain circumstances.

Read more about using semicolons. Here is a quick overview on how semicolons are used:

(1) In complex lists (i.e.

, when the list items themselves contain commas).

Semicolons can be used to outrank any commas which appear in list items.

  • The dinner guests will be Lord Loxley, aged 91; Lady Loxley, aged 41; and Master Loxley, aged 42

In this list, the list items are:

  • Lord Loxley, aged 91
  • Lady Loxley, aged 41
  • Master Loxley, aged 42

Notice how each list item contains a comma. This is why commas are not used to separate the list items. It would be confusing. Semicolons are used to outrank the commas in the list items.

Not all list items have to have commas to justify using semicolons. Only one does. For example:

  • Lord Loxley, aged 91; Lady Loxley; and Master Loxley

Read more about semicolons in lists

(2) To merge two sentences into one to create a smooth transition between the sentences.

Most sentences start with a capital and end with a full stop / period . However, when a smooth transition is required, the full stop / period can be replaced by a semicolon.

  • Jane was one of the lucky ones. She only had to sit through it twice.
  • Jane was one of the lucky ones; she only had to sit through it twice.

Note: You cannot do this with a comma.

  • Jane was one of the lucky ones, she only had to sit through it twice.
  • (This is called a run-on sentence or a comma fault.)

Do not overuse semicolons. They quickly become annoying. If you've used this technique twice in ten pages of writing, then you're probably using it too often. Often, when merging two sentences into one, the second sentence will start with a bridging phrase (or a “transitional phrase” as it's called). Common ones are “However,” “As a result,” “Consequently,” and “Therefore.”

On occasion, a transitional phrase can be preceded by semicolon to create a smoother transition than a full stop / period.

  • Vacation used to be a luxury. However, in today's world, it has become a necessity.
  • Vacation used to be a luxury; however, in today's world, it has become a necessity.

Note: As before, you cannot do this with a comma.

  • Vacation used to be a luxury, however, in today's world, it has become a necessity.

Read more about using semicolons to extend a sentence Read more about semicolons before transitional phrases Read more about run-on sentences

(3) Before a conjunction

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