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Semicolons

The much-maligned semicolon is your friend. Alas, some people use them as commas or colons, with incomplete clauses, or as part of winky-face emojis. Their true purpose, however, is to lend clarity and elegance only to those sentences in which they are needed.

INCORRECT

  • I like animals; lions, tigers, and bears.
  • As for the Mariners baseball team; they lost again.
  • I like coffee, I would like to make some right now.

CORRECT

A semicolon separates two related but independent clauses: “I like coffee; I would like to make some right now.” In a list preceded by a colon, a semicolon separates items that include commas: “I like hot drinks: coffee, because it helps me focus; and tea, because it reminds me of living in Ireland.”

MORE TO KNOW

When you have a coordinating conjunction between two clauses, you don’t need a semicolon. “He likes the red car, but she likes the gray car.” However, this sentence needs a semicolon: “He likes the red car; she likes the gray car.” And unlike with some colons, never capitalize the word following a semicolon.

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