The semi colon is a relatively straightforward item of grammar, yet it can make quite a difference to your writing. If you can master the semicolon it will help your writing become more powerful, more professional and add greater variety for the reader.
1. Related Clauses
The semicolon enables related clauses to be combined into the same sentence.
- Tom ran to catch the train; his alarm clock had failed to go off.
Note: this sentence could also have been written as:
- Tom ran to catch the train. His alarm clock had failed to go off.
- Tom ran to catch the train because his alarm clock had failed to go off.
Note the semi colon can only be used for phrases that are complete in their own right. For example.
- With great trepidation, Tom gingerly arrived at work five minutes late.
The semicolon cannot be used because the first part of the sentence ‘with great trepidation’ is not a sentence in its own right; only a comma can be used here.
Why Use the Semicolon?
You can write using short sentences. Short sentences are grammatically correct. However, it can soon get tedious. If every sentence is short, writing becomes stilted. Using a semicolon enables related ideas to be joined together; this helps maintain a better flow for the reader. The semicolon is particularly effective if you use it with variety. At the start of the paragraph, you could use a few short sentences to set the scene; however, as you progress towards the end, using a few semicolons helps develop the key ideas with greater fluidity.
Another reason to use the semicolon is that it is more subtle, and allows the reader to draw his own conclusion.
Compare these two:
- He voted for the Colonel Pickle, of the Monster Raving Looney Party because he didn’t really know anything about politics.
- He voted for the Colonel Pickle, of the Monster Raving Looney Party; he didn’t really know anything about politics.
Don’t forget, the simple test, is could the two phrases separated by a semicolon form two sentences in their own right?
Using The Semicolon In Lists
The semicolon can also be used in lists to aid greater clarity.
In our Crystal Maze team we have Bongo Smith, the finest mind of Hull; Terence Jones, the snail painter from Croydon, UK; Mandy Bongo, Professor of Herbolgy, Hogwarts, and no relation to Bongo Smith.
There are many more rules for using the comma
- Rules for using semicolon at Bristol