Linking Your Thoughts With a Semicolon

By Gary Blake | December 15, 2017

People are always confusing the semicolon with the colon, but they are quite different. All of the comma rules, in one way or other, are separating a dependent clause from the rest of the sentence (e.g., The manager, who led the discussion, was very concise.)

However, semicolons, at least most of the time, separate two complete thoughts that relate closely together. Here are a few rules to follow with the semicolon:

  • Connect Two Independent Clauses That Relate to Each Other
    John is in charge of support staff; Pam is in charge of managers. Bill went to Stonehenge; Roberta went to Brighton.

There is a difference between the semicolon and the period. The period is a full stop. The semicolon, which also concludes a complete thought, implies that the next thought is closely related to the previous one.

  • Use Semicolons in a Serial List.
    You can use semicolons to divide the items of a list if the items are long or contain internal punctuation. In these cases, the semicolon helps readers keep track of the divisions between the items.

He went to Portland, Oregon; New York, New York; and Denver, Colorado.

In the previous sentence, the semicolon sets off each pair of city and state to avoid possible confusion.

We hired Bill Smith, VP; John Lin, Claims Manager; and Joan Glass, Supervisor.

  • Use Semicolons With Conjunctive Adverbs.

When you have a conjunctive adverb linking two independent clauses, you should use a semicolon. Common conjunctive adverbs include moreover, nevertheless, however, otherwise, therefore, and consequently.

I needed to go for a walk and get some fresh air; also, I needed to buy milk.

The restaurant was closed; therefore, we went home.

We saw the Vice President for an hour; however, we forgot to ask him about Paris.

Again, each of the two thoughts in each sentence is complete. The conjunctive adverb, however, provides a natural transition between the thoughts.

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About Gary Blake

Gary Blake is director of The Communication Workshop, offering claims writing webinars and seminars to claims professionals throughout the US, Bermuda, Canada, and the UK. Blake is the author of The Elements of Business Writing (Pearson Education), used at more than 100 insurance companies. He has written about claims writing for a number of industry publications. His e-mail is More from Gary Blake