Semicolons (;) separate two complete statements that are closely related. As a general rule, if a period would not work, neither will a semicolon. Semicolons also separate items in a series or equal parts of a sentence.
Note that semicolons cannot replace most commas, nor can they introduce lists or items. See the bottom of this page for what to AVOID in using semicolons.
- Show a close relationship
Use a semicolon to show a close relationship between two complete statements when a period would be too much of an interruption.
- We should go shopping today; Macy's has a sale.
- As an alternative to a compound sentence
A compound sentence has two complete clauses separated by a comma and a coordinating conjunction (F.A.N.B.O.Y.S.—for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so). Use a semicolon in place of the comma and conjunction if you want to change the flow of the sentence.
- John drove to town, and Sue went with him.
- John drove to town; Sue went with him.
- Our marketing director, Diane Jones, needs an assistant; but she will be unable to interview applicants until her return from Alaska on June 7.
- Statements that contrast or show cause and effect
Use a semicolon to separate two complete statements that contrast or show cause and effect.
- We did not meet our long–term goals; we did meet our short–term goals.
- No one came to the meeting; it was not scheduled at a convenient time.
- We did not meet our long-term goals. We did meet our short-term goals.
- No one came to the meeting. It was not scheduled at a convenient time.
- Statements separated by transitional phrases
Use a semicolon between complete statements separated by transitional words or phrases such as however, in fact, in other words, therefore, or nevertheless.
Use a comma after the transitional word or phrase.
- Zac graduated with honors; therefore, he was eligible for several scholarships.
- Items in a series that contain internal commas
If items in a series contain internal commas, use a semicolon to separate the items.
- We opened new offices in Dallas, Texas; Seattle, Washington; and Naples, Florida.
Common Misuses of Semicolons
1. DO NOT use a semicolon to introduce an idea or list at the end of a sentence
To introduce a new idea or list, a colon (:) should be used.
Incorrect: There are three colors on the Italian flag; green, white, and red.
Correct: There are three colors on the Italian flag: green, white, and red.
2. DO NOT use a semicolon to separate a complete clause from an incomplete clause
When using a semicolon, make sure the clauses on both sides could stand alone as complete sentences. If one of the clauses is incomplete, then use a comma instead.
Incorrect: After we went to get a pizza; we fell asleep.
Correct: After we went to get a pizza, we fell asleep.