A semicolon represents a stronger break than a comma but not as complete a stop as a period or colon. Semicolons are used to separate independent clauses in a variety of special circumstances. They also serve to group items in a series when the items contain internal punctuation.
Use a semicolon to join two independent clauses that are similar in thought but are not joined by the coordinating conjunctions and, but, or, nor, for, or yet.
- The house stood empty for years; no one would buy it.
- The river raged through the gorge; her small tent was swept away in its path.
Joined by a Linking Adverb. When two independent clauses are joined by a linking adverb such as accordingly, however, therefore, or thus, use a semicolon at the end of the first clause. The linking adverb is usually followed by a comma or set off by commas if it falls within the second clause.
- The turtle survived its two-story fall; however, it was never quite the same again.
- The conference ended last Thursday; therefore, we can get back to business on Monday.
- Margaret told me not to stay in a motel; she suggested, instead, that I stay at her house.
Clauses with Internal Punctuation. A semicolon may be used to separate two independent clauses if one or both of the clauses contain internal punctuation. The clauses may or may not be joined by conjunctions or linking adverbs.
- She owns two dogs, a goat, and a llama; they stay outside all year.
- Walter, the one with the allergies, read his story in class; and everyone thought it was excellent.
- The dark, dusty street looked deserted; but I kept hearing footsteps behind me.
Use semicolons to separate items in a series if the items contain internal punctuation.
- The speakers included Jeff Hines, vice president; Alberta Corazon, director of finances; Edward Singh, human resources; and Nancy Meripol, assistant to the president.
- We ordered five cartons of color-printer paper; six lined, medium-sized stationery pads; and nine boxes of assorted pens, pencils, and markers.