How to Use a Semicolon

I didn’t learn how to properly use a semicolon until I entered college. It was there I sat through a short punctuation lesson in an English class, and the mystery of the semicolon was unlocked to me. After that, I couldn’t get enough. I’d put semicolons into notes to my roommate, drop them into my notebook while scribbling notes for class, fill my papers with semicolons. Semicolons are awesome!

The basic rule for a semicolon is that it can go anywhere a period can go: between two complete sentences. Here are some examples:

1) The airship sailed limply through the damp air; its engines droned loudly as they pushed the ship forward.

2) Steampunk is a genre of Victorian science fiction; many steampunk enthusiasts define it as “retro futuristic.”

3) Although there are steampunk bands such as Abney Park, steampunk music is more about aesthetics than music genre; bands that define themselves as steampunk often sound quite different from each other. (this is an example of how you can use a semicolon to build a longer, more grammatically complex sentence).  

Here are some examples of incorrect use of semicolons.

1) If you wish to begin building your steampunk wardrobe; Goodwill is a great place to start. (this is incorrect because “If you wish to begin building your steampunk wardrobe” is not a complete sentence. This is a dependent clause, not a full sentence.)

2) I went to TeslaCon last year; but I am not sure if I will be able to get vacation time off this year to attend.  (this is incorrect because the word “but” is a coordinating conjunction. You cannot use a semicolon before a conjunction. You would not start a sentence with “But” so you cannot use a semicolon here. 

3) Considered by many to be a founding father of steampunk; Tesla was a very unique and eclectic character. (this is incorrect because “Considered by many to be a founding father of steampunk” is not a complete sentence. It is a phrase because it doesn’t have a subject.)

4) I got these items at the Salvation Army today; two pairs of boots, a cowboy hat, some lace curtains, and four skirts. (this is incorrect because you should use a colon for a list, not a semicolon)

That is pretty much it! Remember, anywhere a period can go, you can use a semicolon. Use semicolons to build longer, more complex sentences, add some variety to your punctuation, and show off your writing chops.

Leave a Reply