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Welcome to this week's FREE writing lesson

Topic: Using Semicolons (;). 

When students are writing essays and reports, a common problem is incorrectly using commas and semicolons.  In fact, some people think they are the same!  Actually, commas and semicolons are used in very different ways.  You could say that commas break up sentences.  They are like scissors that cut a sentence into smaller parts.  On the other hand, semicolons are like glue.  They put two sentences or ideas together in a very simple way. 

Take a look at the following sentences:

  • Margaret loves hot chocolate.
  • Joshua loves iced tea.

    These two sentences can be combined into one sentence.  How?  You can use either a comma or a semicolon.  

    When using the comma, you must also use a word that connects the two sentences (or ideas).  The most widely used word is "and."  Take a look:

    Margaret loves hot chocolate, and Joshua loves iced tea.

    Of course you could use the word "but" or a host of other words.  In addition, you must add a connecting word to make this sentence grammatically correct.  Therefore, the following sentence is INCORRECT.

    Margaret loves hot chocolate, Joshua loves iced tea.

    This sentence is called a run-on sentence.  In other words, it is too long.  For a further explanation of run-on sentences, click here.  For a further explanation of commas, click here

    choices...choices...choices...choices...choices...choices...choices...choices...choices...choices...choices...choices...choices...choices...choices...choices...choices...choices...choices...choices...choices...choices...choices...choices...choices...choices...choices...choices...choices...choices...choices...choices...choices...

    Using Semicolons

    1. If you want to keep things simple, you can use just a semicolon.  Take a look:

    Margaret loves hot chocolate; Joshua loves iced tea.

    2. The great thing about semicolons is that nothing else is needed.  The only requirement is that the two sentences that are combined must be related.  One could never correctly write:

    Margaret loves hot chocolate; I am watching TV.  

    These ideas are completely unrelated.  Hence, they cannot be combined.  

    3.  When a sentence contains a transitional word or phrase (see below), you can combine that sentence with the one that it refers to (or related to).  For example,

    In Taiwan, people drive on the right-hand side of the road.  However, people drive on the left-hand side of the road in Hong Kong.  

    -OR-

    In Taiwan, people drive on the right-hand side of the road; however, people drive on the left-hand side of the road in Hong Kong.  

    Some Common Transitional Words and Phrases
    accordingly indeed as a result
    afterwards likewise consequently
    evidently finally furthermore
    hence however yet
    meanwhile moreover nevertheless
    therefore thus for example
    for instance for this reason on the contrary
    on the other hand that is in addition
    *Note: It is not absolutely necessary to use a semicolon with the above words and phrases.  However, these are common words and phrases that may be used with semicolons

    4.)  If the two sentences (ideas) you are combining have commas or other punctuation, AND you want to use "for," "or," "but," "and," or "nor," it is better to use a semicolon to combine these sentences.  For example, in the above sentence, we wrote:

    Margaret loves hot chocolate.  Joshua loves iced tea.

    becomes

    Margaret loves hot chocolate, and Joshua loves iced tea.

    Neither parts of the sentence (called independent clauses) nor the original two sentences have a comma (except the one comma in the middle combining the two sentences).  However, if one or both of the sentences had its own commas, then you would still use "and" with a semicolon.

    My boss ordered new computers, printers, and scanners; but the order was incorrectly filled.

    NOTE: Although we used "but" to connect the two sentences, we used a semicolon because the first part of the sentence (the first independent clause) has its own commas.

    *Source: The New Webster's Grammar Guide by Madeline Semmelmeyer and Donald O. Bolander. 

     

    Quiz

    Directions: Combine the sentences using commas or semicolons.  If they cannot be combined, write "CANNOT BE COMBINED."

    1. Franklin is planning on going to Africa this summer.

        I am going to stay home and relax.

    ________________________________________________

    2.  Jorge is taking biology this semester.

         Phil lost his books.

    _______________________________________________

    3.  It seems that the economy is slowing down.

         Consequently, Congress needs to lower taxes to get the economy going.

    ______________________________________________

    4.  I would like to take world history, Physics 101, and English composition this semester.

        It seems that I can't because of a scheduling conflict.

    __________________________________________________________

     

    1. Franklin is planning on going to Africa this summer; I am going to stay home and relax.

    ************************************

    2.  Jorge is taking biology this semester.  Phil lost his books.

    These two sentences cannot be combined because they are unrelated.

    ************************************

    3.  It seems that the economy is slowing down; consequently, Congress needs to lower taxes to get the economy going.

    Remember that the "c" in "consequently" is NOT capitalized when using the semicolon because the clause after the semicolon is NOT a new sentence.  It is just a part of the sentence. 

    ************************************

    4.  I would like to take world history, Physics 101, and English composition this semester; but it seems that I can't because of a scheduling conflict.

    We use "; but..." because the first part of the sentence contains internal punctuation (2 commas).

     

      Rules to Remember! 

    1 Commas and semicolons are quite different.  They cannot be used interchangeably. Study the above rules to get a full understanding of how to use semicolons.
    2 It is good to use semicolons in your writing, but don't overuse them.

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