Semicolon (;) When to Use a Semicolon in English

Learn how and when to use a semicolon (;) in English with semicolon rules and examples. The semicolon generally connects two complete sentences, showing that they are closely related.

Semicolon (;)

What is a semicolon?

The symbol (;) is called a semicolon. It consists of a dot above a comma ( ; ).

The punctuation mark connects two complete sentences into a single sentence with two related halves.

Example sentence: The cat wants in; the cat wants out.

When to use a semicolon

The mark (;) is used to connect two complete sentences and to show that they are related.

Examples:

  • We ran out of gas on the highway; all the filling stations were closed.
  • I’m ready for some dinner; I’ve been working hard on this project all day.
  • The cat wants in; the cat wants out.
  • In the 1990s Toyota overtook GM as the world’s best-selling auto brand; it still holds the top spot.
  • Children love to visit the zoo; school tours can be scheduled by calling the zoo office.

Generally, both halves of a sentence with a semicolon must be complete sentences in themselves. If both are not complete sentences, use a comma instead.

  • INCORRECT: This year’s fruit crop is impressive; oranges especially.
  • CORRECT: This year’s fruit crop is impressive, oranges especially.
  • CORRECT: This year’s fruit crop is impressive; oranges have been especially strong.

An exception to the rule above occurs when a sentence contains a complicated series in which one or more individual elements contains the word “and.” In this case, the semicolon may replace the commas separating elements of the series, for greater clarity.

Examples:

  • Pop vocal groups of the 1960s included the Beatles; Paul Revere and the Raiders; and the Rolling Stones.
  • The final stages of the project include glass installation; cleanup and debris transport; and the final quality control check.
  • Composers featured on the concert include Bach and Handel from the Baroque; Mozart and Haydn from the Classical period; and Schumann and Brahms from among the Romantics.
  • If you’re going to drive in rural Africa, you should bring extra struts; brake pads and shoes; and a replacement radiator.

How to use the semicolon with quotation marks

In both American and British English, the mark (;) goes outside the quotation marks in a sentence.

  • I knew I was in trouble when the instructions began with “get your hex wrenches ready”; I didn’t have any hex wrenches.
  • The president promised “jobs, jobs, and more jobs”; analysts were skeptical because unemployment had risen during her first term.

A note on the use of the semicolon

Avoid overuse of the semicolon. When you use it, you are suggesting a relationship between the two halves of the sentence, but it may not be clear to the reader what that relationship is. Sometimes it’s better to explain the relationship in the second clause.

CORRECT: Inflation is down from last year; adjustments to the money supply have controlled prices.

CLEARER: Inflation is down from last year because a reduction in the money supply made price increases more difficult for sellers.

When to Use a Semicolon Infographic

Semicolon (;) When to Use a Semicolon in English

Learn more with useful punctuation rules on how and when to use the colon in English.

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