Using a semicolon

I feel like the semicolon is the most generally impressive punctuation mark (although there are a couple ones that might be more anecdotally interesting). It seemed worthwhile to show how and when to use one correctly. Maybe you can work one into your next email to the boss or your next text to the object of your romantic affection.

How to use:

Semicolons (or semi-colons, both are acceptable) go inside of sentences, which means you don’t capitalize the first letter of the next word unless it’s a proper noun. The spacing is like that of a comma - no spaces before it, one space after.

When to use:

  • Separating lists where the items have some kind of internal punctuation (so like, things with commas inside). Something like 
    • Today I’ve had a Big Mac, the flagship McDonalds hamburger; a Doritos Locos Taco, the new flavored-tortilla-chip-as-a-taco-shell abomination from Taco Bell; and some hot dogs from Wienerschnitzel.
  •  Between two related but not conjoined independent clauses. So, basically when you could use a word like “and”, “or”, “but”, “for”, etc. to join two sentences, you could use a semicolon instead. Wikipedia says these clauses should be balanced, opposed, or contradictory.
    • I really had to fart; I pooped my pants a little instead.
    • I asked her if she reciprocated my undying love; she politely refused to respond.
  • Linking up a broken up quotation. This is probably mostly used in writing actual prose, like fiction and stuff.
    • “I’m really worried” he gasped, reaching down his pants; “I really don’t know what else to do.”
  • Between independent clauses linked with a transitional phrase or a conjunctive adverb. This is the least common use, and is mostly confined to academic texts. I stole this definition from Wikipedia; it didn’t seem worth rewriting or contextualizing. I did this a lot when I tried to make my math papers in college sound smarter than they actually were.
    • His odor entered the room as quickly as he did; thus, the date was over as quickly as it began.


Fun fact: all my examples were written as part of the same story. Fill in the rest! And, if you want some actual resources about semi-colons, you can check out the Wikipedia entry.

Also, if you are one of those people who says “hashtag” out loud in conversation, up your game and call it an octothorpe next time.