A Helping Hand…that annoying little…semicolon

rainbow punctuation-787593_640Yes, he’s very annoying. You don’t want to use him, you try to ignore him, but darn him, he’ll muscle in at every opportunity. So much so that he confuses you and drives you absolutely bonkers. And he has the absolute gall to wink at you…

; ; ; ;

Yes, I’m talking about the semicolon – a period and a comma, stacked up nice and neatly but seem to confuse and perplex so many people.

In fact, the instances in which the semicolon is used are comparatively few. Just remember two basic rules and you can’t go wrong.

In a nutshell, the semicolon is used in the following circumstances:

  • Between two closely-related independent clauses which are not joined by a conjunction (and, but, etc):

Lois and Yvonne went to the zoo at the weekend; Yvonne loves animals.

The link between the clauses means that the semicolon can be used, although a full stop (period) could have been used if you were in any doubt. Remember that each of the clauses must be able to stand alone.

In this example, the semicolon should not be used:

Cornwall has a stunning coastline; sandy beaches and great surf.

The latter clause cannot stand alone.

  • In a complicated list of many items, many of which themselves contain commas:

The meeting was attended by Stephen Hise, Founder; Kat Brooks, Co-Administrator; Dan Mader, Contributing Author and Cathy Speight, former Miss World.

And that’s all there is to it. Remember those two basic rules and you’ll be able to wink right back at that cheeky little chappy.

Author: Cathy Speight

Reviewer Cathy Speight is British and lives in England. The Kindle revived her passion for reading and after stumbling on a Facebook group of independent authors, she now does her best to encourage and assist indies as much as possible. Books by indie author form the majority of her collection. Cathy shares her views on the books she has read on her blog.

41 thoughts on “A Helping Hand…that annoying little…semicolon”

  1. Very good Cathy; neat advice and to the point. Problem I find is that they can grow like a rash in writing because they're so useful in avoiding repeated conjuctions; they make the writing flow more neatly.


  2. Can I just say how crazy it makes me when people don't use semicolons in a list of complicated items? The reason for the semicolon is to help the reader figure out when one element of the series ends and the next one starts.

    *So* many punctuation rules exist to make writing easier for the reader to understand. I might have to do my own blog post on this… Thanks for the idea, Cathy! 🙂

    1. The writer should never provide his/her work to his/her editor until it is as perfect as he/she can get it on his/her own. Whew!

      That said, the more "rules" you learn to use accurately, the fewer chances there are for something to slip through. Believe me, if it's there and determined to be missed those pesky mistakes will sneak by even a professional editor. Especially if they are accompanied by 50 gazillion of their kind.

  3. Thanks a lot! I had someone rewrite my bio and they inserted a damn semi for what reason I don't know. Now if you could explain a colon. I had my proofreader putting then in, and I have no idea why?

  4. For the record, an editor isn't going to fix all of your grammar issues. Even if you hire a proofreader there still may be errors. No matter what people will still find fault with your book if they have a mind to do so. Things get missed all the time. 🙂

  5. Thanks, Cathy! One trouble with semicolons (or at least, that I've heard) is that many in the position to pass judgment on a book (reviewers, literary agents, publishers) assume that writers don't know how to use them. Therefore, all use is suspect. If writers feel more confident about them, perhaps we can kill that assumption.

  6. Thank you so much for this clarification, Cathy!

    So lovely to have two little (easy) rules to master, in order to avoid misusing semicolons. I tried using "Grammarly" while proof-reading, and found that it wanted me to insert semicolons far too often.

  7. I have not generally had a problem with semicolons, but I was glad to read your third scenario. I have one such long list with lots of commas in between and had never heard whether the semicolon was acceptable here or not. I did use them, by the way. Thanks for the clarification. Now I know it's OK!

  8. I tend to avoid them if I can. I skipped grade five, the year when they taught all that grammar stuff, so I had to catch up as I could. I learned very well by osmosis (reading) but semi-colons, colons and even commas still give me some trouble. And then there are the problems of differences between countries; Canada says Tom, Dick and Harry; the U.S. says Tom, Dick, and Harry. (Did I get that right?)Thanks.

        1. It evidently depends on the context which way you do it even in Canada. If the sentence is confusing as to the exact meaning without a comma before the 'and' then you should use a comma. If it is clear what is meant without it, then you don't use it. Did I just confuse the issue completely for you, Yvonne?

          1. I'm always confused so you can't make it worse. lol Actually, I use commas where they make sense to me and it seems to be working most of the time. My editor changed very few in my last manuscript.

  9. That's a good way to go, Yvonne and goes a long way to getting commas where they should go. If you read slowly or out loud, their placement comes almost naturally.

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