Posted by: Jodi | March 31, 2010

Fear of the Semicolon!

I have a confession to make, I don’t understand how to use a semicolon properly. There, I said it.

So let’s have a review lesson together.

The Four Rules of Semicolon Usage

Rule #1 -Use to connect two independent clauses

ex: This is the first half of the sentence; this is the second half.

Note: if you use a conjunction (and, so, but, etc.) then you must use a comma

ex: This is the first half of the sentence, and this is the second half.

Rule #2 – Use as a “super-comma” when creating lists where the items are already using commas.

ex:  We visited Moab, Utah; Los Angeles, California; and Eve, my grandma.

ex: The three important dates are Tuesday, May 21st; Friday, May 24th; and Saturday, May 25th.

Rule #3 – (optional) Use to clarify a complete sentence that ends in a connector word and then a list of three or more items.

ex: The conference will go on as planned; except George, Julie, and Jerry won’t be attending

OR, you can still use a comma:

ex: The conference will go on as planned, except George, Julie, and Jerry won’t be attending.

Rule #4 – (optional) Use to connect two independent clauses  using a conjunction where  the first clause already has a comma in it.  Sometimes this makes the sentence easier to read.

ex: When I cook anything, it turns out bad; but you can still eat it.

Master rules 1 and 2; you can consider yourself a semicolon expert and use them with confidence!

Here are some links to people who might actually know what they are talking about:

Grammerbook: Semicolon

Essortment: Semicolon

Happy Writing!

Click here to go to the next lesson “e.g. vs i.e.”>



  1. At last . . . the semi-colon simplified.

    If you haven’t seen it before. Check out Aardvarkian Tales ~ he’s got a tale about a semi-colon on it. : )

  2. Punctuation is overrated. Example: Timothy Dexter, a late 18th century eccentric American businessman who never learned to spell. This paragraph from Wikipedia:

    At the age of 50 he decided to write a book about himself – A Pickle for the Knowing Ones or Plain Truth in a Homespun Dress. He wrote about himself and complained about politicians, clergy and his wife. The book contained 8,847 words and 33,864 letters, but absolutely no punctuation, and capital letters were sprinkled about at random. At first he handed his book out for free, but it rapidly became popular and ran into eight editions in total.[citation needed] When people complained that it was hard to read, for the second edition he added an extra page – 13 lines of punctuation marks – asking readers to “peper and solt it as they plese”

    Of course, on a more serious level, there’s also Cormac McCarty who doesn’t use quotes for dialogue.

    It’s all relative.

    • Fascinating stuff, would love to read it. For the most part I don’t care too much about correct punctuation and grammar except where it might get me thrown out of consideration for a submission. These darn places insist we all act professional!

  3. Sort of a self-demonstrating first sentence — there should be a semicolon between the two independent clauses, not a comma. Though that might have been deliberately tongue-in-cheek? Either way, “I have a confession to make, I don’t know how to use a semicolon” just became my new favorite example for where to use a semicolon!

    • I would love to say it was intentional, but it was a happy mistake. I think I’ll let it stay. And that, dear grammar savvy Geoffrey, is the whole reason I chose to blog about semicolons. To hopelessly learn how to use them.

      • Some English teacher or other managed to get it into all of our heads that you could tell whether to use a comma or a semicolon to separate clauses of a sentence by sticking a period in there instead. If the period works, and you get two complete and coherent sentences, you should use a semicolon (or just keep the period). If one of them is a fragment, then you can use a comma.

        It doesn’t help with the various listing uses, but it breaks down the clause-separation function pretty neatly.

  4. […] Fear of the Semicolon […]

  5. […] <Click here to go to last week’s grammar lesson “Fear of the Semicolon” Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)e.g. v. i.e. […]

  6. Good post, Jodi! Good responses, too. Now, if I may, can I add my own “Don’t Fear the Comma”?


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