Blog - Proofreading and Copy Editing

Punctuation I: The Semicolon

Let’s take a break from homophones and consider the semicolon (;).

Semicolons are frequently misused – I generally find that they are either overused (replacing colons and commas) or not used at all.

There are three rules to remember when using a semicolon:

1. A semicolon is used to separate items in a list where there are already commas within items.

You’ll get paid for walking the dogs at numbers 27, 35, and 41; mowing the lawn at numbers 33 and 37; and washing the cars at numbers 23, 25, 27, and 29.

2. A semicolon is used to distinguish between closely related independent clauses that are not joined with a conjunction (and, or, but, so, etc.).

I wanted to sell my house; I put it on the market.

3. A semicolon is placed between an independent clause and a semi clause that is linked with a transitional phrase or a conjunctive adverb (e.g. however, thus, of course, etc.).

It could happen at any time; however, I seriously doubt it.

Of the three rules, Rule 1 is the most common use of the semicolon and Rule 3 is the least common use (it is mostly used in academic texts).

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