Punctuation: Semicolon

The semicolon and colons are two distinct marks used frequently in the English language. Although the semicolon may resemble the colon, its function is not the same. It can be substituted for a period in some cases; in others, it works more like a comma. Let’s take a look at its various uses by studying some examples.

Most commonly, it is used to join two independent clauses into one sentence without the use of a conjunction (such as ‘and’ or ‘but’). ‘The water has reached its boiling point’ and ‘The time has come to cook the noodles’ are two sentences that can be connected this way: ‘The water in the pot has reached its boiling point; it is time to cook the noodles.’ When a conjunctive adverb (also, for example, as a result, therefore, instead) is part of the second independent clause, the semicolon precedes it: ‘Last night’s blizzard shut down transportation; therefore, schools are closed today.’

Whenever items in a long list need separating, and commas have already been used, semicolon use is advised: ‘Please recycle these household goods: aluminum cans; cardboard boxes and newspapers; plastic milk cartons and containers; glass bottles and jars.’

Note the the colon’s placements in the sentence above — it introduces an important point in one spot and a list in another. By learning these distinctions, you will know how and when to punctuate properly, with either a semicolon or colon.