Tuesday’s Tips: Semi-Colons Made Simple

Semi-colons are pretty simple punctuation marks; they only do two things.

1. Semi-colons join two independent clauses (complete sentences):

I didn’t like her cooking; I just ate it to be polite.

“I didn’t like her cooking” is a complete sentence, as is “I just ate it to be polite.” Therefore, they can be joined with a semi-colon. Note that complete sentences can begin with “therefore” and “however.”

2. Semi-colons are used between items in a series if at least one of the items contains appositive material (explanatory words set off with commas):

We invited my brother, Bill; my sister, Jeanne; and my cousin, Pat.

Each “item” in this series contains a word set off by commas:

  1. my brother, Bill
  2. my sister, Jeanne
  3. my cousin, Pat

Therefore, we know that we invited three people. If we had only used commas, the list of people we invited could be confusing:

  1. my brother
  2. Bill
  3. my sister
  4. Jeanne
  5. my cousin
  6. Pat

The semi-colon is used to keep the items in a list separate, so that it’s clear who was invited.

One last semi-colon rule: place them outside quotation marks.



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