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 semicolon 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.
Because such words are followed by a comma, a super-comma semicolon should precede them between the two independent clauses.
- 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 semicolon separates the clauses, and the following verbs are replaced by a comma.
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)
- The index listed the famous people mentioned in the book. I only remember the names of Jefferson, Thomas; Adams, John; Cody, Buffalo Bill; and Eisenhower, Dwight. (each surname and given name is separated in the list from the next surname and given name by a semicolon because a comma already separated each surname and given name)
A semicolon 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.
- a period (to combine two related independent clauses/sentences)
- a comma with a FANBOYS to combine two independent clauses which contain commas
- a comma (in a list with commas in individual items)