What Are Semicolons? (with Examples)

Our most common search themes:
apostrophe
semicolon
adjective
verb

What Are Semicolons? (with Examples)

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

Below is a quick overview of when semicolons are used. Click here for a more comprehensive version of this list or click on the "Read more" link with each entry.

When to Use Semicolons (A Very Quick Overview)

Below is a quick overview on when to use semicolons.

(1) Use semicolons in complex lists (i.e., when the list items themselves contain commas).

Semicolons can be used to outrank any commas which appear in list items.
  • The dinner guests will be Lord Loxley, aged 91; Lady Loxley, aged 41; and Master Loxley, aged 42
In this list, the list items are:
  • Lord Loxley, aged 91
  • Lady Loxley, aged 41
  • Master Loxley, aged 42
Notice how each list item contains a comma. This is why commas are not used to separate the list items. It would be confusing. Semicolons are used to outrank the commas in the list items.

Not all list items have to have commas to justify using semicolons. Only one does. For example:
  • Lord Loxley, aged 91; Lady Loxley; and Master Loxley

Often, when merging two sentences into one, the second sentence will start with a bridging phrase (or a transitional phrase as it's called). Common ones are However, As a result, Consequently, and Therefore.

On occasion, a transitional phrase can be preceded by semicolon to create a smoother transition than a full stop / period.
  • Vacation used to be a luxury. However, in today's world, it has become a necessity.
  • Vacation used to be a luxury; however, in today's world, it has become a necessity.
Note: As before, you cannot do this with a comma.
  • Vacation used to be a luxury, however, in today's world, it has become a necessity.
Read more about using semicolons to extend a sentence
Read more about semicolons before conjunctions