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Semicolon Use and Rules With Exercises

Updated on May 19, 2014
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Semicolons are one of those punctuation marks that are often confusing to writers. The tend to either be underused or overused. Using a semicolon correctly is relatively simple and easy. Correct placement can give your writing clarity and depth.

Between Two Sentences

Semicolons are most commonly used between two full sentences (also known as independent clauses) that share a similar or progressive meaning. Though the two sentences could stand on their own, semicolons help the reader to understand their connection.

Example: Mary went to bed early; she was very tired.

In this sentence, the semicolon connected the two shorter sentences that contained progressive meaning. Mary went to bed early, and the reason she did this was because of her tiredness.

Use a semicolon this way only if you have two full sentences and only if the use of the semicolon helps the reader connect and understand the meaning.

Transition Words

Another way to use a semicolon is when you have connecting transition words and phrases such as therefor, however, actually and on the other hand.

If the transition word is in the middle of the sentence and it is connecting the two sentences, then a semicolon is used to signal the end of the first sentence and the beginning of the next.

Let's take our first sentence and add a transition.

Example: Mary went to bed early; actually, she was very tired.

The difference between this example and the first one is that we added a transition word and a comma after the connecting semicolon.

List With Phrases That Use Commas

The last usage of semicolons is for separating a list in a sentence where the list is a series of multiple-word phrases that have commas in them. In this case, you can't use commas to separate the items.

Example: There are many jobs available in town: carpentry, if you are good with your hands; accounting, if you are good with numbers; or teaching, if you enjoy working with children.

In this case, trying to separate the list with the usual commas would confuse the reader since there are already commas present in the original list of jobs. Each separate job is separated by semicolons, making it easier to read.

Don't be afraid to use semicolons; a properly placed one can be impressive.

Semicolon Exercise

Add semicolons to each of these sentences to make them correct.

  1. The dog was lost he could not locate his owner.

  2. Be sure to buy milk at the store however, don't forget to bring me the change.

  3. She thought the cat was smart the cat thought she was an idiot,

  4. There are many reasons people enjoy watching movies including: the beautiful, exciting plots the action, adventure, and romance and the escape from harsh, everyday reality.

  5. He wanted to be a writer alas, he was unable to fulfill his dream.

    Answers are at the bottom of the article!

Answers to Test Your Knowledge of Semicolons

  1. The dog was lost; he could not locate his owner.

  2. Be sure to buy milk at the store; however, don't forget to bring me the change.

  3. She thought the cat was smart; the cat thought she was an idiot,

  4. There are many reasons people enjoy watching movies including: the beautiful, exciting plots; the action, adventure, and romance; and the escape from harsh, everyday reality.

  5. He wanted to be a writer; alas, he was unable to fulfill his dream.

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    • LisaMarie724 profile image

      Lisa Stover 4 years ago from Pittsburgh PA

      Very well written on a great topic.

    • LCDWriter profile image
      Author

      L C David 4 years ago from Florida

      I appreciate the positive feedback!

    • profile image

      Casimiro 4 years ago

      I simply prefer not to use them.

      "I love the semicolon; it's unnecessary,

      but graceful and sophisticated."

      - Brian P. Cleary

    • Rock_nj profile image

      John Coviello 4 years ago from New Jersey

      Nice explanation about proper semicolon usage. I actually have a harder time with proper comma usage, since when to use a comma is not always very clear, but semicolon useage is pretty straightforward. A hub about how to use commas correctly would be helpful.

    • LCDWriter profile image
      Author

      L C David 4 years ago from Florida

      Yes commas have more rules. That's why always wonder why people are so scared of semicolons! The rules are easier to remember!

    • ExpectGreatThings profile image

      ExpectGreatThings 4 years ago from Illinois

      The semicolon is my favorite punctuation; I wish more people used them! Great hub!

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