There are three uses for the semicolon:
- To join two independent clauses (complete sentences) that are closely related.
- To join two independent clauses when the second clause begins with a conjunctive adverb or a transitional phrase (therefore, however, as a result, in fact, etc.)
- To separate items in a series when one or more of the items contain a comma.
HOT GRAMMAR TIP
To make sure you have used the semicolon correctly, check to see if there is a complete sentence on either side of the semicolon. Also, the two sentences must be directly related. The semicolon emphasizes this relationship and, therefore, should be used sparingly.
Joining Independent Clauses
Here the semicolon serves the same purpose as a coordinate conjunction. However, the semicolon is used sparingly whereas the coordinate conjunction may be used often.
One shouldn't work while on vacation; they are for fun.
Explanation: There are two independent clauses, or complete sentences, here. The first is One shouldn't work while on vacation, and the second is they are for fun. The semicolon connects the two sentences and emphasizes the relationship between the two.
Joining Two Independent Clauses with a Conjunctive Adverb or Transitional Expression
The semicolon immediately precedes the conjunctive adverb and is followed by a comma.
I would go shopping with you; however, I am expecting company.
Explanation: There are two independent clauses here, and the second begins with the conjunctive adverb however, which further clarifies the relationship between the two sentences.
Separating Items in a Series
Here the semicolon serves the purpose of not confusing the reader when there is already a comma in one or more of the items in a series.
The people at the party included John, a fellow my husband works
with; Sue, John's wife; Joanne, Sue's best friend; and Jerry, Joanne's husband.
Explanation: Since the content in the items already contains commas, it would be confusing to the reader to separate these items with commas. Therefore, semicolons are used to separate these items.