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Semicolons - Glossary of Terms


A semicolon (;) is a punctuation mark with three uses: (1) in complex lists (2) when a slight break is preferable to new sentence (3) before conjunctions (e.g., and, or, but) in certain circumstances.


The following are invited: Mel, the expedition leader; James, the medic; Paul, the communications expert; and Edwina, the chef.  
(In this list, the list items contain commas.  Therefore, semicolons can be used to separate the list items instead of commas.)
No one was seriously hurt in the accident; one boy broke his finger. 
(This could be written as two sentences, but as a slight break was preferable, a semicolon was used.)
In July 1992, the scorching summer caught everybody by surprise; but Alan, who had been studying weather patterns for 30 years, predicted the heat wave in January. 
(When two sentences are merged using a conjunction (and, or, but, etc.) and the sentences contain commas, it is possible to use a semicolon before the conjunction.  This is not a common practice and is considered old fashioned by many.)
Associated pages:
Using semicolons before conjunctions (and, or, but, etc.)
Using semicolons before transitional phrases (e.g., however)
Using semicolons in lists
Using semicolons to extend a sentence
Glossary of grammatical terms

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