Use a semicolon to 1) join sentences and 2) break up lists. You might think of it falling somewhere between a comma and a full stop (period). That’s probably why it looks like it does – a full stop floating above a comma like this:
You can get through life without ever having to use this punctuation mark, especially if you don’t plan to write any fiction. But used accurately it can be useful, so here’s how to really work that keyboard real estate!
Tip #1: Use it to join two complete sentences into one sentence.
You can use it to avoid the dreaded comma splice. If you join two related sentences to make one sentence, you can’t use a comma to stick them together. Commas aren’t sticky.
Take these two sentences:
Cuddling hedgehogs is not recommended. They are covered in prickles.
To join them together, you can replace the full stop with a semi colon like so:
Cuddling hedgehogs is not recommended; they are covered in prickles.
Tip #2: Use it to break up a complex list.
For simple lists, the comma is enough to separate each list item. For more complicated lists, using the semi-colon instead of the comma can often be clearer.
Alan could only remember three things from his stag night: meeting Darrell, Dave and Adrian at the pub; dancing on the table with Sophie the barmaid; and waking up in a police cell at 3am with his trousers on back to front.
This example shows how we use punctuation in a list, with the colonintroducing the list and the semi colon separating the list items.
Click here for more on hoe to punctuate bulleted or numbered lists.