Semicolons = the Supercomma
Semicolons are a cross between a comma and a period.
Click on the link for each use for more explanation and examples.
A semicolon will combine two independent clauses (sentences) without a conjunction.
- He said she was late; she disagreed.
- They often argued about when I should get home from work; he never considered the number of train crossings between work and home or the length of the coal trains.
Independent clauses joined by a comma and a FANSBOY conjunction
Often two independent clauses are joined by a comma and a conjunction (“for,” “and,” “nor,” “so,” “but,” “or,” “yet”). If one or both clauses contain commas, a semicolon should precede the conjunction.
- The cow, who had 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.
Two independent clauses joined by connecting words like “namely,” “however,” consequently,” “for instance”
Because such words are followed by a comma, a semicolon should precede them.
- The teacher knew her grammar well; however, she struggled to teach it to her students.
- The students struggled with punctuation; for instance, they never figured out how to use commas.
Independent clauses following the same pattern as the first clause
When the second (and third, fourth, however many) clause(s) uses 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 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.
When a list contains items already separated by commas, a 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.