My sweet mother rarely sends me an e-mail without a semicolon in it. She loves that little piece of punctuation. I’ll give her credit though; 99 percent of the time she uses it correctly.
For writers and editors, the semicolon is a must for adding variety to our words. But not everyone is a fan of the “supercomma” as it’s called by some. Is it stronger than a comma? Weaker than a period? Kinda.
Here are four common (and correct) ways to use a semicolon:
1. Joining two independent clauses. Normally we join two independent clauses with a comma and a coordinating conjunction (and, but, yet), but a semicolon works as well. (Remember, an independent clause is just one that can stand on its own as a simple sentence.)
Example: I’m working on a story for MyBusiness, but the title is giving me trouble.
I’m working on a story for MyBusiness; the title is giving me trouble.
2. Separating independent clauses that are long or contain commas. Too many commas in one sentence can be troublesome, so using a semicolon to break it up can be beneficial.
Example: We do much of our reading online here at Hammock; but our great library contains an extensive collection of books, magazines, newspapers, newsletters and brochures anyway.
3. Connecting two independent clauses with a conjunctive adverb. Sounds difficult, but anytime you use the word “however” you’re probably doing just that. Others include besides, nevertheless, thus and furthermore.
Example: Kerri is designing the cover for the next issue of American Spirit; however, all designers will have some input on the final product.
4. Dividing items in a complex list. Listing the things you need at the grocery store after work is one thing (I need milk, eggs, sugar and bread while you’re there), but if your list is a little more complex, using a semicolon will help your readers understand it better.
Example: Hammock has friends in Austin, Texas; Nashville, Tenn.; Sacramento, Calif.; and Washington, D.C.