Intensive Purposes: Semicolons

writing editing essay

writing editing essay

Semicolons are such wonderful things. Seriously, if it weren’t totally off the wall to have a favorite punctuation mark, I’d say the semicolon is my favorite of them all. Which they are. And I’m saying it. Semicolons are my favorite punctuation mark (what’s yours!?). In fact, I love them so much that I have a tendency to overuse them, which isn’t all that uncommon. If you’re not quite sure what a semicolon does, it can be easy to overuse them, and use them incorrectly.

Semicolons (;) simply join two complete sentences that are somehow related. They don’t join a complete sentence to a fragment; the sentence that follows should be a complete sentence that can stand on its own. (A bit of a level up moment for you: the second sentence may start with a transition word, typically a conjunctive adverb, and still be considered ‘complete’ and therefore grammatically correct). As far as ‘related’ goes, the topic of the two sentences should be similar in nature, rather than two totally unrelated sentences.

The word that begins the sentence after the semicolon does not get capitalized unless it’s a proper noun.

For example:

Planning for the new term was a time-consuming task; I was up all night preparing lessons.

Pepper them in your writing lightly! They can be great tools, and are sometimes necessary, but overusing them can sound ignorant or pretentious. You don’t want either of those.

You might also see semicolons in lists, which I’ll touch on next week! They’ve got an important job there too, but I don’t want to overload your brain on semicolons!

A play on the misquoted phrase “for all intents and purposes”, Intensive Purposes tackles one grammar rule or English language tip — from proper punctuation to misused phrases — in an easy-to-understand mini-lesson. 

  • You know I’ve always kind of been a bit scared of semi-colons; I feel now that I know how to use them properly I shall use them more!
    (I hope that’s right)
    Thanks for the lesson 🙂

    • You got it! They seem much more intimidating than they are 🙂

  • I never used semicolon before I knew how to properly use it. I learned about it in my third semester in uni and as soon as I grasped the concept, it has become my favourite punctuation mark too! I use it frequently, especially in my Facebook status. Haha…

    Love, Dara

    • Once you get it, it becomes the easiest thing in the world! I catch myself using them (maybe a little too) often.

  • I love semicolons and you can tell when you see all of my papers. Can you use them too much? I probably do use them too much…

    Sunday Brunch

    • I probably use them too much too. Oh well, I think the world will live with some extra semicolons 🙂

  • Ok, I totally have favourite punctuation marks; my top three are the interrobang, the ampersand, and semicolons! Yay! ^___^

    • There’s just something about how ampersands look that makes me love them as well!

  • Kay

    I love semicolons (my fave as well!) and definitely think I fall into the ‘overuse’ category. But lucky for me, it seems I have been using them correctly!

    • I overuse them too, I feel, so you’re not alone! Once you’ve mastered them they’re just too fun to not use.

  • Sonya

    I was just going to say: lists! The semicolon was my favorite punctuation mark to discuss in school. I’m always kind of baffled when people find it so difficult to use because it’s so simple to me. I’m not mean to people about it, though. Not everyone has an English degree and I know people understand things that I don’t (like Dan and software developing), so I try not to judge (much).

    • Lists are probably my favorite usage of semicolons!

      Grammar is just weird. I don’t think I even really got it until mid-high school, so I can see why some people, students and adults, just don’t follow it. You’ve got to “know” it to a point where you understand how it works, not just memorize a rule and use it, which is sadly how I think a lot of people were taught grammar. I try to be forgiving too, but I hope that it’ll click and people will wake up and be like “Aha! Yes! Semicolons everywhere!”

  • Yes! I love semicolons! I love using them!

    • Yes! They’re addictive!

  • A) The semicolon is tied with the ampersand as my favorite punctuation mark. It’s totally perfectly okay to have a favorite! <3

    2) I love using semicolons! I was almost afraid I've been using them wrong and looking like a jerk, but it was a moment of grammar-induced panic.

    d) I had an English teacher beat into my head that you ALWAYS use a semicolon before "however" and that it joins two complete sentences. That's probably why I love them so much; I know how to use them correctly. I hope you get to be that English teacher for high schoolers now!

    • Oh, grammar panic. I know the feeling! I’ve never heard of a teacher being strict about using a semicolon before “however”. It’s perfectly fine, but I think most of my teacher just rejoiced that we could use them at all, much less getting into more technical rules about them. Who knows, maybe the extra rules with them are a good thing!