This is the guest post by Stephanie Schottel from Cup of Tea Language Coaching. Stephanie is a Houston-based certified Neurolanguage Coach® that specializes in one-on-one ESL coaching. Enjoy her great explanation of the proper use of semicolon and excellent semicolon examples.
I have a love affair with the semicolon. Yes, you read right. I might be one of a handful of people who actually have an emotional attachment to punctuation! It’s just that the semicolon is so powerful, and that’s what I want to explore here. What is the semicolon? When is it used? And, what makes it so effective when used correctly?
What is a Semicolon?
A semicolon is a comma with a period above it, so it looks likes this ☛
The semicolon is not a colon and it’s not a comma! It is its own form of punctuation with its own rules and uses.
First, let’s look at an example.
Sarah found a job quickly and easily; her husband, on the other hand, struggled to find work.
What do you notice about the clause before the semicolon and the one after?
- They are both independent clauses, which means they could stand on their own because they have a subject and verb.
- They are not joined by a conjunction like and or but.
- The two clauses are closely related.
- The second clause follows naturally and logically.
The two sentences go hand in hand, don’t they?
And, that is the essence of the semicolon.
What Makes Semicolon so Effective when Used Correctly?
The semicolon provides a nice, clean feel. Because it’s used when you have two sentences that complement each other so well, additional connecting words are simply not necessary. To add them might take away from the message. Here’s what I mean:
I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw him; I never dreamt this day would come.
As you can see, these sentences tell a story that imply a great deal of emotion. By using the semicolon, we keep the sentences concise and allow the story to shine through without extraneous words.
Here’s another example:
She’d always wondered what it would be like to be on stage; now she knows.
Now, you could say:
She’d always wondered what it would be like to be on stage, and now she knows.
But is the word and really necessary? It’s subjective, but without it, I think we can agree that the message is more succinct.
A Note about the Period…
Now, you could use a period after each sentence and avoid the semicolon all together. There is nothing grammatically wrong with this. The only catch is that your message might be perceived as “choppy.” This can happen when you have two or more short sentences in a row that follow a similar structure. Take a look and see if you can feel the difference:
They had been searching for the treasure for eons now; they were losing hope.
They had been searching for the treasure for eons now. They were losing hope.
Again, both sentences are grammatically correct, but do you notice the elegance of the first sentence compared to the second? That is the power of the semicolon.
Other Examples of Proper Semicolon Use
Not only does the semicolon connect two closely-related independent clauses, it can also be used to show a relationship between clauses when used with adverbs like however, moreover, therefore, thus, consequently, and furthermore.
Let’s take a look.
Angela was caught cheating several times; consequently, she was suspended from school.
You’ve contributed so much to this company during your tenure here; therefore, we would like to give you a raise.
Notice the use of the comma after the adverbs consequently and therefore. The adverb is surrounded by punctuation! When read aloud, you would pause slightly at the semicolon and the comma.
How is the Semicolon Different from a Colon?
It might be easy to confuse the comma and the semicolon because they share a resemblance. A colon, however, is used after a statement in order to introduce a list, a definition, or a further explanation such as an example.
Here are two sample sentences:
The recipe requires these ingredients: oil, pine nuts, basil, and sea salt.
Every time Anna laid eyes on her new baby girl, one word came to her mind: angel.
Based on everything we’ve learned about semicolons, for what reason did I use a colon in these examples and NOT a semicolon? Take a moment to consider the reason. If you are unsure, revisit the uses of the semicolon above.
Prompts for Practice
It always helps to practice proper semicolon use in a relevant way. Take a moment to complete the prompt with an independent clause after the semicolon.
- Raising kids was harder than she thought; __________________________________ .
- Andrew has his final exam tomorrow; ______________________________________ .
- I wonder why he suddenly showed up; _____________________________________ .
- I think I learned my lesson; ______________________________________________ .
- Ahmed has been working at the same job for years; ___________________________.
My hope is that you feel more comfortable with this fun and versatile punctuation option. It can truly add an element of sophistication and flow to your writing; I guarantee it!