Punctuation Guide: When to Use a Semicolon

When to use a semicolon?

Of course, there are several reasons to place it in your text. But in modern language, it’s more typical to separate a sentence into two parts instead of using a semicolon.

Custom Writing team developed this guide for you. Firstly, there’s a question which bothers many students:


What is the difference between a semicolon and a colon?

Colon vs semicolon—how do you distinguish between the two?

They have different functions.

We use a colon in sentences to introduce a list or to emphasize one part of a sentence.

A semicolon is responsible for other functions. We need it to separate independent clauses or long parts of a list.

Do you need a semicolon or a colon in the sentence? It depends on the particular case.

If you think that a colon is more appropriate for your sentence—you can read some rules about it as well (just click “Colon” in the right part of the screen).

If not, here are some semicolon standards and examples.


How to use a semicolon instead of a conjunction

When we use independent clauses in a sentence, they’re typically connected with each other. In this case, we use a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or) and a comma.

But proper use of English grammar and punctuation changes under different conditions. If you delete the conjunction from the sentence, you should add a semicolon.

Here’s an example of a compound sentence with a semicolon:


All patients must sign up by telephone or in the hospital; patients who use the Internet to make an appointment are not assisted.


Semicolon use before a transition

The correct use of a semicolon isn’t difficult to understand in sentences with transitions. Transitions can be specific words and phrases. Authors use them to show the readers they moved from one thought to another idea.

Examples of transition expressions: nevertheless, afterward, of course, in other words, and so on.

A semicolon is used before the transition:


These days, exotic animals are more often turned into pets; for example, Clara from NC keeps a raccoon in her house.

Here’s another example with a semicolon before however:


All her friends tried to stop her from leaving the country until she got over her illness; however, she couldn’t miss her daughter’s wedding.


Lists with commas

A paragraph without punctuation would be too difficult to read. Even when you use commas, a sentence can still be hard to understand.

That’s why sometimes we need the assistance of other punctuation marks.

In this section, we’ll tell you when to use a semicolon in a list.

According to punctuation rules, the semicolon may be used instead of definite commas. In this case, a semicolon before conjunctions isn’t a punctuation mistake as long as it performs the role of the comma. In the following example, you can see a semicolon before and:


She felt great in the village: making birdhouses, reading old stories, and learning tree names with grandpa; swimming in warm lakes and collecting strange bugs with Ann and Susie; and going to the fair with Aunt Marie.


Elliptical constructions

When to use a comma or period? It is a popular question from writers who try elliptical constructions. The truth is–you can use not only the comma or the period but the semicolon as well!

Separate those parts of the sentence which express a complete idea with the beginning of the sentence:


On the red team 5 players were left; on the blue team, 3; the green team tried to catch up with just 2—it was obvious who was going to win.


Do you capitalize after a semicolon?

When we use a colon, sometimes capitalization is necessary. But what about when using a semicolon?

You shouldn’t capitalize after a semicolon unless it’s placed before a proper noun.

Semicolon – further study

Now you can tell when to use a semicolon. If you still have any doubts, check out our other sections in this punctuation guide.