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Grammar Semicolons

Teacher/Instructor Katie Aquino
Katie Aquino

Writing, Grammar, Literature, ACT Prep
Education: M.Ed.,Stanford University

Katie is an enthusiastic teacher who strives to make connections between literature and student’s every day lives.

Semicolons are used in place of a period to separate two independent clauses that are joined without a conjunction. They are also used to separate a list in which an item includes a comma or before an adverb that joins 2 independent clauses.

Let's talk about semicolons. Alright, semicolons is that one punctuation mark, it looks like a period with a comma right underneath it and often times it's used confusedly. So let's talk about the rules that rule when we use the semicolon. So the first one and probably the most prolific use of it is when you use it in place of a period to separate two independent clauses that aren't joined with a conjunction. Now the catch here is that if you use a semicolon to separate those two independent clauses, those two independent clauses have to be closely related. So you couldn't say 'I'm going to the store; then I went to bed'. That doesn't really fit together, so you want to make sure the subjects are really super closely tied if you're going to split them with a semicolon. The nice part here is that this semicolon usage is a good way to fix run on sentences if you have them.
Alright, you also can use semicolons to separate a list in which certain items in the list already use commas. So that's more of a clarification thing so instead of using millions of commas in a sentence, you're going to separate it out and use the semicolons to provide that separation. And then finally you use a semicolon before an adverb that joins two independent clauses to create that break. Here's one big trick. With the exception of semicolons in a list, either side of a semicolon should always be able to stand on its own. So it's not like a regular colon where you provide a list afterwards. If you look at either side of a semicolon, you've got to have words, in other words sentences that can stand by themselves.
Alright, let's take a look at some examples. I've got 'My father is an engineer; my mother is a nurse'. So we've got our semicolon here in the middle. This works because we've got two independent clauses, either one can stand on it's own and the idea here is that these are really closely related. I'm telling you what my mum does and I'm telling you what my dad does. Alright, what about this one 'My bucket list includes visiting London, England, Dublin, Ireland and Honolulu, Hawaii. So this is one of those where what has gotten really confusing is how I use commas everywhere. I would have had one, two, three, four, five commas. So instead I provided clarification by splitting up my list with semicolons. The one here and the one here because my item, London, England, Dublin Ireland and Honolulu, Hawaii already have commas in them.
Finally 'I overslept; consequently I was late to school'. And that's that third rule where you use a semicolon before an adverb to split up two independent clauses. Let's look over here and see if you can place the semicolons in the right spot. So we've got the sentence the participants came from Chicago, Illinois, Dallas, Texas and Savanna, Georgia. So we know we're missing some commas here so missing an 's' here too, let's add that in. Participants came from Chicago, Illinois Dallas, Texas and Savanna, Georgia; these are just conventional comma uses. Now if we threw commas here to separate Chicago Illinois from Dallas Texas and then another comma here to separate Dallas Texas from Savannah Georgia, that looks a little messy and confusing. It's hard to see where the items in the list actually are. So instead of using those commas because we already have commas in the items, let's go ahead and change those to semicolons. So they came from Chicago, Illinois; Dallas, Texas; and Savannah, Georgia. So now it's really clear where the items in the list are.
And then finally 'My favorite book is 'Beloved' by Toni Morrison I also love jazz.' So we've got two really closely related sentences here. If I was grading the sentence though, I would write a big fat RO next to it. It's a run on sentence, you've got two independent clauses that are fused and there's nothing to fuse them together. Because they're so closely related, they're both talking about books by Toni Morrison that this person happen to like, you can throw in a semicolon there. Now you've a compound sentence not necessarily one that's a run on sentence. So this should help you with that semicolon use. Think wisely and make sure that where you use it things are closely related.