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What is a semicolon?

A semicolon is a punctuation mark used to separate closely-related independent clauses. Stronger than a comma, a semicolon does not require the use of a coordinating conjunction.

How should semicolons be used?

  • Use a semicolon to link two closely-related independent clauses.
    • Homelessness is a problem that has evaded resolution; despite the heroic efforts of many concerned citizens, there are still thousands left on the streets.
  • Use semicolons to separate items in a list that contain other punctuation.
    • Concerned citizens can protect the environment by driving a fuel efficient car, such as a hybrid; recycling glass, plastic, and paper; and buying products with less packaging material.
  • Use a semicolon to link two independent clauses that have a transitional expression between them.
    • Sending a text message can cause a driver to take his eyes off the road; therefore, he may choose to put his cell phone in the trunk.

Avoid misuse of semicolons

  • A semicolon should not be used to introduce a list (of three items or more); use a colon instead.
  • Do not use a semicolon to separate a dependent clause from an independent clause; use a comma instead.
  • Do not follow a semicolon with a coordinating conjunction; use a comma instead.

For additional information on semicolons, see also: