The semicolon serves much like a higher-level comma. Writers of nonfiction should it sparingly. The semicolon slows the reader's pace. In many instances, the writer would be better advised to use the period and the dash. Use a comma if that will suffice.
Here are its uses:
- Use the semicolon to separate clauses that contain commas.
- James A. Phillips, president of the Atlantic Trust, was also a director of Northern Minerals Co. and Franklin Transport; Harvey D. Jones was a director of Northern Minerals Co. and Franklin Transport; Richard C. Seubert, chairman of the board of Larkin & Co., was also on the board of Northern Minerals Co.
- The trio consisted of a man, who had taught high school ten years previously; his daughter, who was in her final year at a Midwestern University; and a young man, who had attended an eastern prep school.
- Use a semicolon to separate statements of contrasts, as well as clauses or
phrases that are too directly connected in meaning to express as separate
- It was true in the past; it is true today.
- War is cold and blustery; summer, warm and humid.
- Yes, you are correct.
- No, she provided one quarter.
- Use a semicolon to set off an abbreviation, or words, which amplify or explain
the preceding statement.
- The trade show is important for the packaged food industry; i.e., packaged food manufacturers, food machinery manufacturers and agents, retail and wholesale food chains and groups, and food marketers and agents.
- There were four oil companies involved in the project; namely, Gulf, Texaco, BP, and Shell.
- Only on one point did we all agree; namely, that the Association was undertaking work that was not essential.
- He was fairly successful in that position; that is, he attained his sales objectives and stayed within his budgets.
Additional uses of the semicolon are listed below. However, they tend to lead the writer away from the development of effective writing. They encourage the writer to construct longer and more complex sentences. Instead, he should be striving to construct shorter, tightly crafted sentences that the reader can read and understood easily and quickly. For examples of these uses of the semicolon, consult a book of English grammar.
- To separate related independent clauses, which are connected without a coordinating conjunction.
- To replace a comma between two clauses, which have been joined by a coordinating conjunction, if the sentence is confusing-because of its length or the number of commas used.
- To join two clauses if the second contains however, indeed, thus, or accordingly, or a phrase, such as on the other hand, in that case, or as a result.
- Before so and yet when they are used as conjunctive adverbs or coordinating conjunctions.
- To join two statements if the second clause is elliptical.
© G.A. Robinson 2002-2013