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THE SEMICOLON RULES
 

THE SEMICOLON RULES

Sanyx ,  20-Apr-09
THE SEMICOLON RULES
This article is about the correct usage of the semicolon.

The semicolon (;), colon (:) and the comma (,) are punctuation marks that can sometimes confuse even the best of us. The easiest way to avoid this confusion is to follow the rules and remember relevant examples that show the correct use of each of these punctuations.

The semicolon rules are the easiest to follow and remember. In grammar, you need to remember that the semicolon is almost as powerful as a period. A period at the end of a sentence brings it to a full stop and conveys a complete idea. The semicolon, on the other hand can hold together two independent sentences with distinct ideas together. It can improve the quality of the written material if used correctly, as it gives the reader an anticipation of something more to come.

There are 4 main rules for proper usage of the semicolon.

Rule 1:     A semicolon can be used instead of a period, to join two separate sentences, by leaving out the conjunction that would generally join them.

In other words, ‘Sentence A and sentence B.’ can be written as ‘Sentence A; sentence B.’ Here the conjunction ‘and’ was replaced by the semicolon. You need to keep in mind that the sentence is made up of independent clauses. The clauses have to be closely related in meaning and have a direct and logical connection.

Examples:
  1. Sarah loves novels and John loves comics. This can be written as ‘Sarah loves novels; John loves comics.’
  2. I love ice creams, but it's not as healthy as yogurt. This can be written as ‘I love ice creams; it's not as healthy as yogurt.’
  3. Meet me tomorrow; I will come with you.

Note: A semicolon cannot be used in front of words such as therefore and however, if they form a dependant clause or an incomplete sentence.
 
Examples where a semicolon should not be used:
  1. I would, therefore, like to go home.
  2. It is, however, extremely difficult to cross that river.

Rule 2:     A semicolon can be used before words like ‘namely’, ‘however’, ‘therefore’, ‘that is’ (i.e.), ‘for example’ (e.g.), or ‘for instance’, if they are at the beginning of either a complete sentence or a list. A comma is generally used after such these words.

In other words, ‘Sentence A. For example, sentence B.’ can be written as ‘Sentence a; for example, sentence B.’ Once more, the sentences have to be made up of independent clauses. The clauses have to be closely related in meaning and have a direct and logical connection.

Examples:
  1. You may need to bring many trekking items; for example, warm jackets, trekking boots, sleeping bag, warm caps will all make the trip better. (This sentence is made up of two parts and both parts make sense by themselves. The first part is ‘You may need to bring many trekking items.’ And the second part is ‘For example, warm jackets, trekking boots, sleeping bag, warm caps will all make the trip better.’ Hence they can be separated by a semicolon and written as one sentence.)
  2. You may need to bring many trekking items; for example, warm jackets, trekking boots, sleeping bag, and warm caps.( In this example the second part ‘For example, warm jackets, trekking boots, sleeping bag, and warm caps’ does not make complete sense by itself.  But, as this is a list and is closely associated with the first part of the sentence, we can merge them with a semicolon to form a meaningful sentence.)
  3. As we had discussed, Joy brought two things; i.e., an axe and a duffel bag.
  4. They have traveled to countries all around the world; for example, Australia, Brazil, China, and Greenland.

Rule 3:     A semicolon can be used to separate many items in a series or a list, especially if when one or more of the items are separated by commas.

This rule is used if you have to write down a list of a number of things, where each set has commas in it. For example: I took fresh, green vegetables; mashed sweet potatoes; creamy cake straight from the oven; and milkshake, bought from the superstore this morning.

If you write down this sentence with commas instead of semicolons, the reader would be uncertain about where to pause. The semicolon tells the reader to give a slightly longer pause than a comma, hence helping to separate the various items.

This rule is also used if you have to write down items in a multipart series. Each item in the series could have their own commas or different conjunctions. For example: This seminar has agents who have come from Melbourne, Australia; Los Angeles, California; and Dallas, Texas.

Other examples:
  1. He runs and hides; stops and thinks; then stumbles and falls down.
  2. For the National Cup, cricket matches were played in Mumbai, Maharashtra; Chennai, Tamil Nadu; and Calcutta, West Bengal.
  3. The attending lecturers were Dr. Judy Charles, English; Dr. Harry Gellar, biology; Dr. Shirley Harrison, history; and Dr. Joanne Smith, mathematics.
  4. Jenny is an excellent teacher as she relates well with her students, colleagues and superiors; completes her courses on schedule; and demonstrates an ability to organize and manage college events.

Rule 4:     A semicolon can be used to separate sentences joined by a conjunction if the first sentence has one or more commas in it.


Examples:
  1. When I finish here, I will be glad to help you; and that is a promise I will keep.
  2. If she can, she will attempt that feat; and if her husband is able, he will be there to see her.
Each of these clauses could also be written as two separate sentences. But, when these clauses are linked it makes the thought stronger and also avoids the use of very short sentences.

Note: A semicolon is also used in bibliographic references. If a reference has more than one author, they are cited by giving their surnames followed by their initials and separated by a semicolon and a space.

Examples:
  1. Aboitiz, F; Morales D; Montiel J (2003). "The evolutionary origin of the mammalian isocortex: Towards an integrated developmental and functional approach.
  2. Boyce, E. S.; Katz, R. M.; Mellon, C. The place of bibliographic instruction in the university curriculum. A: Mellon, C. (ed.).

SUMMARY OF THE RULES:
Rule 1:     A semicolon can be used instead of a period, to join two separate sentences, by leaving out the conjunction that would generally join them.
Rule 2:     A semicolon can be used before words like namely, however, therefore, that is, i.e., for example, e.g., or for instance, if they are at the beginning of either a complete sentence or a list. A comma is generally used after such these words.
Rule 3:     A semicolon can be used to separate many items in a series or a list, especially if when one or more of the items are separated by commas.
Rule 4:     A semicolon can be used to separate sentences joined by a conjunction if the first sentence has one or more commas in it.
 

PRACTICE QUESTIONS


Add a semicolon wherever required in the following sentences.
  1. Joe is thin his brother is fat.
  2. The siren blew loudly I rushed to the window the police raced past as I looked out.
  3. Although the story is impossible, I believe you and the others will, too.
  4. Since you asked my opinion, I will tell you and I hope you will listen well.
  5. The weather was wonderful in fact, it was the best weather for a month.
  6. I have not heard the latest comments therefore, I cannot render an opinion.
  7. Our children have traveled throughout the world for example, Australia, Brazil, Korea, and Russia.
  8. Barbara is a diligent student she, in fact, is tops in her class.
  9. We have lived in Logan, Utah Las Vegas, Nevada and Rio Claro, Brazil.
  10. The new in-laws are Jay, Pam's husband Karen, Will's wife and Mark, Terri's husband.
  11. For the campout we took our raincoats, boots, and tarp but we didn't use them.
  12. My son is a medical technician my daughter, a postal worker and my wife, an editor.
  13. The class officers are Fred Ogden, president Dan Royal, vice-president and Jayne Allen, secretary.
  14. I am looking for the poem "The Path Not Taken" I need it tomorrow.
  15. There was a sudden noise everything stopped immediately.
  16. Professor Johnson believes that people should obey traffic laws at all times the roadways, he says, are already dangerous enough.
  17. There was no running and no shouting all the children behaved very well therefore, they will all get a treat.
  18. Working mothers nationally pay an average of $53 a week for child care this means that many women pay nearly half of their weekly salary to day care centers or babysitters.
  19. There was a sudden silence everyone was stunned by the outcome.
  20. My favorite meals are a hamburger, fries, and a milkshake tacos, burritos, and margaritas and sushi, sake, and miso soup.
  21. You may be required to bring many items e.g., sleeping bags, pans, and warm clothing.
  22. This conference has people that have come from Boise, Idaho Los Angeles, California and Nashville, Tennessee.
ANSWERS

  1. Joe is thin; his brother is fat.
  2. The siren blew loudly; I rushed to the window; the police raced past as I looked out.
  3. Although the story is impossible, I believe you; and the others will, too.
  4. Since you asked my opinion, I will tell you; and I hope you will listen well.
  5. The weather was wonderful; in fact, it was the best weather for a month.
  6. I have not heard the latest comments; therefore, I cannot render an opinion.
  7. Our children have traveled throughout the world; for example, Australia, Brazil, Korea, and Russia.
  8. Barbara is a diligent student; she, in fact, is tops in her class.
  9. We have lived in Logan, Utah; Las Vegas, Nevada; and Rio Claro, Brazil.
  10. The new in-laws are Jay, Pam's husband; Karen, Will's wife; and Mark, Terri's husband.
  11. For the campout we took our raincoats, boots, and tarp; but we didn't use them.
  12. My son is a medical technician; my daughter, a postal worker; and my wife, an editor.
  13. The class officers are Fred Ogden, president; Dan Royal, vice-president; and Jayne Allen, secretary.
  14. I am looking for the poem "The Path Not Taken"; I need it tomorrow.
  15. There was a sudden noise; everything stopped immediately.
  16. Professor Johnson believes that people should obey traffic laws at all times; the roadways, he says, are already dangerous enough.
  17. There was no running and no shouting; all the children behaved very well; therefore, they will all get a treat.
  18. Working mothers nationally pay an average of $53 a week for child care; this means that many women pay nearly half of their weekly salary to day care centers or babysitters.
  19. There was a sudden silence; everyone was stunned by the outcome.
  20. My favorite meals are a hamburger, fries, and a milkshake; tacos, burritos, and margaritas; and sushi, sake, and miso soup.
  21. You may be required to bring many items; e.g., sleeping bags, pans, and warm clothing.
  22. This conference has people that have come from Boise, Idaho; Los Angeles, California; and Nashville, Tennessee.
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