Don't fear the semicolon!

The semicolon has a reputation as being a difficult punctuation mark. In fact, it’s one of the easiest punctuation marks to use!

Read these two short sentences: We discussed the business proposal. We decided not to give the group its funding.

It’s quite choppy, eh? To make it less choppy, replace the period with a semicolon, like this: We discussed the business proposal; we decided not to give the group its funding.

Imagine the period like a stop sign and the semicolon like a yield sign. Do you want to stop one sentence before beginning the next, or do you want to link the two together? It’s up to you to decide.

Now, you’re probably thinking – this example is still too choppy. Okay, fine. Let’s add the word “however”: We discussed the business proposal; however, we didn’t give the group its funding.

See how there is a semicolon before “however” and a comma after “however”? Many people will put a comma both before and after the word “however”. Semicolons can replace a period, commas cannot. Remember, if you can use a period, then you can use a semicolon.

Here are a few more samples for you:

I didn’t agree with my manager’s position; however, there was nothing I could change.

The recession hit us hard; therefore, we had to lay off some staff.

I’m not concerned; in my opinion, everyone is on track.

A Word of Caution: Although you can now use the semicolon with confidence, be careful with its overuse. Use the semicolon only when linking two short sentences that are closely related. If you link two longer sentences, it will decrease the overall readability.

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Marie Antaya avatar

By Marie Antaya, CTDP

Author of The Eclectic Writing Series.