A semicolon is a super-comma, a cross between a comma and a period.
A comma needs a FANBOYS conjunction (“for,” “and,” “nor,” “so,” “but,” “or,” “yet”) to combine independent clauses. A semicolon can do it alone.
- He said she was late; she disagreed.
- Supper had been ready at five o’clock; she didn’t make it home until quarter to six.
- They often argued about when she should get home from work; he never considered the number of train crossings between work and home or the length of the coal trains.
Often two independent clauses are joined by a comma and a FANBOYS conjunction (“for,” “and,” “nor,” “so,” “but,” “or,” “yet”).
If one or both clauses contain commas, a super-comma should precede the conjunction instead of the usual comma.
- The cow, having escaped from her pen, jumped over the moon; but the cowboy lassoed her when she landed.
- The writer of this blog, trying to create interesting sentences, hopes to keep readers interested; and she spends a lot of time thinking, not typing.
- Swatting at the flies with their tails, the horses waited anxiously at the gate; for it was almost time for them to be released to the pasture.
When such words begin the second clause, a semicolon should follow the first clause and a comma follow the connecting word.
- The teacher knew her grammar well; however, she struggled to teach it to her students.
- The students had a hard time with punctuation; for instance, they never figured out how to use commas.
- Semicolons baffled even the better students; namely, Taylor and Katrina.
- The teacher visited with other teachers for ideas; consequently, everyone learned how to use commas and semicolons.
A super-comma separates the clauses, and the verbs in the following phrases are replaced by commas.
When the second (and third, fourth, however many) clause(s) use(s) the same verb phrase as the first, it/they may be shortened by replacing the verb with a comma and separating the clauses with a super-comma semicolon.
- Martin could eat five hamburgers; Charles, four; Bruce, six; and Justin, only two.
- On Halloween night, the Joneses passed out Hershey bars; the Smiths, Babe Ruth candy bars; the Thompsons, Tootsie Rolls; and the Clarks, apples.
- They all lived on the same block. The oldest lived at 1401 Casper Street; the next oldest, at 1403 Casper Street; the twins, at 1405 Casper Street and 1407 Casper Street; and the youngest at 1410 Casper Street.
When a list contains items already separated by commas, a super-comma semicolon indicates the end of each item.
- The small class list for the teacher gave the last names first: Adamson, Aaron; Lopez, Anne; Banks, Sarah; Dixon, Donald; Hayes, Charles; and King, Casey.
- The letter was slow to arrive because it had been sent to London, England; Paris, France; Berlin, Germany; and finally to Beijing, China.
- I have lived in Riverside, California; Topeka, Kansas; Billings, Montana; and Omaha, Nebraska; but never east of the Mississippi River. (each unit of city and state is separated in the list from the next city and state by a semicolon because a comma already separates each city and state)
- The tests were given on July 13, 2015; August 4, 2016; June 25, 2017; and February 28; 2018. (each unit of date and year is separated in the list from the next date and year by a semicolon because a comma already separates each date and year)
It is NOT a colon; it’s a super-comma.
- Mother needed to buy fruit for the party: bananas, cantaloupe, apples, pears, and oranges.
- (colon before the list, commas separate the items in the list)
- All five children were born on the same date of different years: 1989, 1992, 1996, 2000, and 2003.
- (colon before the list of years, commas separate the years)
- Emily has lived in seven states: Pasadena, California; Seattle, Washington; Weatherford, Oklahoma; Presho, South Dakota; Florence, Alabama; Pittsburg, Pennsylvania; and Dover, Delaware.
- (colon before the list of places she has lived, commas separate the cities from the states, and semicolons separate the combinations of city and state.