Writer's WebUsing Semicolons
Liz Atkins

There are three major uses for semicolons. Note that an "independent clause" means a group of words capable of being a sentence by themselves.

Don't overuse semicolons. Instead, try to use them only when a clear and close relationship exists between the things you connect. In other cases, you might want to use an effective transition.

Use Semicolons:

1) Between independent clauses of equal rank when there is not a coordinating conjunction:

Individual environmental action is essential for saving the planet; everyone must take action in his or her community.

2) Between independent clauses of equal rank when there is a conjunctive adverb or a transitional phrase. Note that the semicolon comes before the conjunctive adverb or transitional phrase, and a comma follows the conjunctive adverb or transitional phrase:

Eliminating red meat from your diet is a good way to reduce cholesterol; besides, it also saves the lives of animals.

All college students should be given a Porsche for graduation; after all, we've earned it!

Conjunctive adverbs include: also, anyway, besides, finally, however, meanwhile, otherwise, therefore, etc.

Transitional phrases include: after all, as a result, for example, in conclusion, in other words, etc. You may wish to consult our materials on transitional phrases.

3) Between items in a list with internal punctuation in order to make the groupings within the list clearer:

Besides winning Best Picture, The Silence of the Lambs swept the other major categories in the Academy Awards, with Jodie Foster, for Best Actress; Anthony Hopkins, for Best Actor; and Jonathan Demme, for Best Director.


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