Ah, yes. The semicolon - a concept of grammar whose use grows more and more endangered, it seems. What even is the point of this… this thing? Well, we actually use it more than you would think; in reality, we often construct ideal sentences for its execution.
The semicolon is stronger than the comma, but weaker than the period. Commas can be used to separate a dependent clause from an independent clause (if the dependent clause comes first, at least), whereas a semicolon can be used to separate two independent clauses.
Now you must be asking, “But Grammar Guide! Why not just make two sentences… Or use coordinating conjunctions! Those are so much less complicated!”
Well, that’s entirely true and up to the writer. However, both of those methods can get a little too commonplace. Use of the semicolon is far more complex and shows you have a much firmer grasp of English punctuation than some other people.
Here’s an example of correct semicolon usage:
"I like typing quickly; it’s a challenge for me."
I’m sure if I gave that sentence with no punctuation to a lot of people, a lot of them would stick a comma there instead of a semicolon. Doing so is incorrect; that is called a comma splice, something that is considered taboo in the English-savvy world. On the flipside, a period would disrupt the flow.
It would be perfectly fine, though, to write the sentence like this: “I like typing quickly because it’s a challenge for me.” It’s all up to the discretion of the writer.
There are some instances in which a period, not a semicolon, would be suitable instead. A semicolon is used to continue the flow of two independent clauses, but sometimes that flow isn’t desired.
Here’s an example from this blog’s article, “What Is Grammar?”:
"I felt like this would be an appropriate way to begin this blog. There will be no actual grammar lesson here…"
Placing a semicolon after “blog” would create unneeded attraction between the two clauses; it would draw attention to a relationship that does not exist.
Semicolons can also act as a super comma! This is easier to show than explain (note: I’m sure “super comma” is not the accepted term; it’s just a good way to think of it):
"I traveled to New Orleans, Louisiana; Miami, Florida; NYC, New York; and Chicago, Illinois."
"My cited authors are Green, John; Levithan, David; and Shusterman, Neal."
"My relatives include my uncle, who fishes; my aunt, an excellent technician; and my cousin, who’s only five years old!"
I think that paints a pretty clear picture. If you find yourself making a list in which the individual items need commas for whatever reason, separate them with a super co— I mean, a semicolon!
In this instance, the comma and the semicolon work together.
A transitional phrase is a short phrase, usually one-to-three words long, that helps bridge two independent clauses. They’re similar to conjunctions, except they’re usually in the form of prepositional phrases (“for example,” “for instance,” “in conclusion,” etc.) or single words (“however,” “admittedly,” and “therefore”).
"I need to go to work in the morning; therefore, I shall go to bed earlier than usual."
If you haven’t noticed already, the semicolon goes before the transitional phrase which is followed by a comma. How do you know when to use a comma, you might ask?
The only time that only a comma is used to separate two independent clauses is when a coordinating conjunction (FANBOYS - for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) is used. So if you find yourself transitioning between two clauses and you aren’t using any FANBOYS, you’re likely using a transitional phrase.
- Semicolons are used to join two independent clauses with connected ideas.
- They are used to separate items in a list when said items are in need of commas themselves.
- When using a transitional phrase, the semicolon goes first, followed by the phrase, and then a comma.
Now, go use your newfound punctuation knowledge to be grammatically correct!
-Written by DarcX, edited by actuallyminimal and twinkletoes-rp.