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Monday, June 8, 2015

Week 23 Use Semicolons to Both Separate and Connect

Week 23 Use Semicolons to Both Separate and Connect

by Peggy Urry

                                                                       Clunky vs Subtle

Semicolons also come in these two varieties. The clunky version is used in vertical lists.

     Use semicolons to:
          1. Link two independent clauses or complete sentences;
          2. Link two independent clauses when the second clause is introduced
              by an adverb such as however or therefore;
          3. Add clarity to a series when the items are long or have internal commas.1

The subtle variety is a mark of distinction, a pause that is shorter than a period but longer than a comma. "Even as they separate, they imply a connection, as in 'Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country'."2

Other examples of subtle semicolons:

Understanding a concept is one thing; applying it is another.
Juan was two hours late; Arriola was getting worried.
She told us to take her advice or find a new attorney; we found a new attorney.3

Play around with those sentences and see how punctuation changes the feel and the flow.

Points to remember: Colons introduce; semicolons separate. Semicolons need independent clauses or complete sentences on either side (unless you're talking the clunky list variety).

In which sentences are semicolons used incorrectly?
1. Although it's 2:00 a.m.; I think I'll keep writing.
2. It's gorgeous outside--ten degrees with fresh snow; I think I'll go for a ski.
3. I heated the water in my coffee mug; until it boiled.
4. I flung the boiling water into the subzero air; an arc of mist disappeared before it hit the ground.

Did you pick 1 and 3? Then you are correct.4

There are many more examples in Mastering the Craft by Stephen Wilbers.

If you want more on semicolons, check our Grammarbook or UWM's Writer's Handbook.

1. Mastering the Craft of Writing, Wilbers, pg 127
2. Mastering the Craft of Writing, Wilbers, pg 127
3. Mastering the Craft of Writing, Wilbers, pg 127

4. Mastering the Craft of Writing, Wilbers, pg 128


  1. When I read "Colons introduce; semicolons separate." - I totally imagined them at a party, and the colons were like the matchmakers introducing everyone to each other and the semicolons would show up to the circle and everyone would disperse. Okay, so I know that has nothing to do with grammar, but that was the image! Nice post!

  2. And what an easy way to remember it. Love the example.