7 ways to use a semicolon

Here are some tips to help you use this handy punctuation mark.

Pity the poor semicolon—so often misunderstood, so seldom asked to dance because he is seen as stiff, formal and pretentious.

But he’s such a practical, useful fellow whose talents should be appreciated. I would like to reintroduce him to you.

A semicolon has two primary functions, exemplified in two labels attached to it: It is said to be the equivalent of a weak period and a strong comma. Think of the two as distinct dance steps.

In its weak-period mode, the semicolon stands in for a period when an independent clause could appear as a separate sentence but is so closely related to the previous independent clause that the semicolon is inserted to signal that relationship:

“An investigator files and locates court documents; librarians file claims for missing serials and locate requested information.”

As a stand-in for a strong comma, it separates items in a list when one or more items in that list are themselves lists:

“The apple figures prominently in Christian and Islamic belief; Greek, Nordic, and Celtic legends; and folklore throughout the Western world.”

It serves that function, too, when one or more list items otherwise include a comma:

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