Easy Learning English

The semicolon ( ; ) - Easy Learning Grammar

The semicolon is used to mark a break between two main clauses when there is a balance or a contrast between the clauses.
  • Compare:

  • The engine roared into life. The propellers began to turn.
  • The plane taxied down the runway ready for takeoff.
  • with:

  • The engine roared into life; the propellers began to turn; the plane taxied down the runway ready for takeoff.
A useful test to work out when to use a semicolon is to ask yourself whether the two clauses could be written instead as separate sentences. If the answer is ‘yes’, then you can use a semicolon.Note that it is quite acceptable to use a full stop in these cases, but a semicolon is preferable if you wish to convey the sense of a link or continuity between the clauses in your narrative.
  • I’m not that interested in jazz; I prefer classical music.
  • He knew everything about me; I had never even heard of him.
A semicolon is also used to separate items in a list, especially if the listed items are phrases or clauses, which may already contain commas.
  • The holiday was a disaster: the flight was four hours late; the hotel, which was described as ‘luxury’, was dirty; and it rained for the whole fortnight.

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