How to Use a Semicolon: An Understanding of How It Works?

Do you wish to know how to use a semicolon? Then this is the right article to get that information. There are three common uses of a semicolon when it comes to writing. And the correct use of this mark is one powerful instrument to building engaging but complex sentences.

The dictionary definition of the semicolon states that the semicolon is known to signify a separation between parts of a sentence than that of a comma. The main function of the semicolon is its use in pauses that it often creates. That is to say, a longer pause than a comma but somewhat shorter than a full stop.

The semicolon has two main uses. That is, it joins closely related single clauses and some mega comma. This article discusses its first use and the next in detail.

Definition of a Semicolon

use a semicolon

I’ll like to give you a fun fact before the definition, so may I? Thank you.

Do you know that the semicolon was introduced into the modern type of writing by an Italian printer around the year 1566? Now you do.

But since it’s the same symbol as the ancient Greek question mark, it’s said to be older than the colon (:), which was first shown around 1450.

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And please don’t mix them up. A colon is known to introduce something, most times a list, and sometimes just a statement. While a semicolon is known to separate two independent but related clauses, it’s also said to replace the comma to separate items in a complex list.

Functions of A semicolon

When it comes to a semicolon, it’s known to help you connect closely with all related ideas, especially when a style mark stronger than a comma is needed.

So, by applying semicolons neatly to your work, you can surely make your writing fluent.

1. You can use a semicolon between two independent clauses connected by conjunctive adverbs or transitional phrases.

For example, However they choose to write, people are allowed to make their own decisions; As a result, many people can attest to their writing methods.

2.  You can use a semicolon between independent clauses joined by some coordinating conjunction, and that’s if the clauses are already punctuated with commas or if the clauses are lengthy.

For example, some people write with a word processor, phone, or even tablet; Still, others, for various reasons, do choose to write with a pencil or a pen.

3. You can use a semicolon to list items or series, especially if any items contain a comma.

For example, there are two writing methods: a pencil or pen, which is cheap and can be easily gotten; or by a computer and a printer, which is costly but quick and neat.

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4. A semicolon is commonly applied to link a single sentence and two independent clauses closely related in thought. And when a semicolon is applied to join two or more ideas or parts in a sentence, those ideas are given their equal rank and position.

For example, some people write with a word processor; while others write with a pencil or pen.

Semicolon Examples

Semicolons are most times misused members of the punctuation tribe. And one thing you have to remember is; semicolons are used to offset two independent clauses. So if you wish to know how to use a semicolon, you need to learn how to place its function in particular sentences.

Semicolons are used as a form of a list.

Semicolons sometimes stand in for commas in lists, especially when commas alone are said to be confusing. Now take a look at the examples below. Each of the items in the list is known to contain commas itself, so using commas to separate the items distinctively could lead to some confusion.

With that said, semicolons do come to the rescue. They act as a comma, divide the lists, and allow for greater organization and clarity.

  • You can order a burger with chips, cheese sauce, and crunchy chicken; ham, tomato, cheese, an egg or lettuce, avocado, and tomato.
  • As far as travel through the United States, I’ve visited Las Vegas, Nevada; Little Rock, Kansas; and Los Angeles, California.

Semicolons used in Independent Clauses

Just like colons, semicolons shouldn’t be applied to connect more than two clauses, and you don’t capitalize the first word of the second clause.

This means they are to be used when dealing with two different thoughts that could stand on their own as a sentence.

You might want to ask, then why not use the full stop? Well, my answer is, semicolons represent two closely linked independent clauses. So if one or both of the clauses isn’t complete, you need to consider using a colon instead.


  1. It would help if you stopped eating less; do keep a balanced diet.
  2. I had a huge meal an hour ago, but I’m still hungry; why is that?
  3. Toni drives a Porsche; Maria drives a Lamborghini.
  4. I have finished eating the main course; now I have to eat dessert.
  5. She didn’t see the car coming; now she has to pay huge repairs on her car.
  6. She moved to Nigeria; she preferred to stick to her origins.

Semicolon Mistakes

Here are some of the frequent semicolon mistakes people make;

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1. Semicolon mistake: Confusing it with a colon

The stew has three main ingredients; tomatoes, cayenne pepper, and seasoning.

In this part, the semicolon should be a colon. And in some situations, you might have a choice between a colon and a semicolon. The difference can be quite subtle in some way, so do make sure you grasp them. Let’s take a look at one example;

Mariam was sad. Mike was bored.

Now, with all likelihood, Mariam and Mike’s moods are related. After all, why did the writer tell us about them? So, I reckon we replace the period with either a colon or semicolon. But here’s the key; it depends on how the two statements are related.

What if it’s done in this way? Mariam was sad; Mike was bored. In this way, we get a broader light of the sentence; it simply shows that Mariam’s sadness and Mike’s boredom are related in the story. Perhaps Mariam is sad about the same thing that Mike is bored. It could be she didn’t do well in an interview or an exam, and Mike was bored of consoling her and needed to do other things for that day.

But if the sentence is given in this way;

Mariam was sad: Mike was bored.

Then something is different here and needs to be stated out. The basic use is to introduce an elaboration or explanation of what has come before. So, with this, the use of the colon here suggests that Mikes’s boredom explains Mariam’s sadness. This is to say, Mariam was sad because Mike was bored.

Perhaps, in this case, Mariam had excitedly given the bad news about her interview, believing Mike would console her this time, but he wasn’t; he became bored of it.

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In essence, as that one example shows you how to use a semicolon, you need to know the appropriate time and place to use a semicolon or colon; it can subtly change your meaning in some way. So you need to be very careful when choosing the one to use.

However, it all depends on the understanding of your readers.

2. Semicolon mistake: Connecting incomplete sentences

I like America; because of the freedom and the people

This is incorrect because it doesn’t meet the stipulated rule that you must use a full sentence before and after a semicolon. So, for example, ‘I like America’ that’s a full sentence, but ‘because of the freedom and people’ doesn’t make sense as an independent sentence. And in this case, you can’t replace the semicolon with a full stop here because people wouldn’t understand the message. So the correct answer here would be, I like America; the people are friendly, and the freedom there is quite impressive.

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Can Semicolons be used to explain?

Yes, a semicolon helps to organize longer sequences of sentences in an orderly manner. It also provides all the necessary means for advancing a given argument, especially to demonstrate a causal relationship between two ideas or things.

You can use a semicolon to demonstrate the relationship between two or more ideas without using more words to explain that relationship.


To end this article, if you wish to check whether or not you’re using a semicolon correctly or know how to use a semicolon expertly, I reckon you read the two clauses on their own and see if they make sense to you. If they don’t, then it’s a miss, and you need to re-correct it.

Another tip to check if you’re using a semicolon correctly is to substitute in conjunction, words like, and, yet, or, for, so; this is because using a semicolon does permit you to take out the comma and conjunction of two different sentences.  For example, Mariam was sad; Mike was bored, which could be rewritten as Mariam was sad and Mike was bored.

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Hi, I'm Benedict. The founder of Bennyselfpublishing Academy. A platform designed to teach people how to write and publish their books online and offline from the comfort of their homes. When I am not writing, I am outside playing football or watching my favorite team Chelsea play.

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