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Grammar Tips & Tidbits


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The Scoop on Semicolons


If you're bewildered by semicolons, then you're not alone! Many people aren't exactly sure how to use them, so they simply avoid using them altogether. I hope this installment of Grammar Tips & Tidbits will clear up the confusion so you can begin using semicolons correctly and confidently.

The following rules come from The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation website, courtesy of Jane Straus.¹ You can view additional tips, read Jane's blog, or purchase her book at the following website: http://www.grammarbook.com. Jane's site also includes tons of free quizzes for testing your knowledge. If you can't get enough grammar quizzes, you're in luck. Jane recently launched a subscription area containing over 100 interactive quizzes!

by Jane Straus

Rule 1                Use a semicolon in place of a period to separate two sentences where the conjunction has been left out. 


Call me tomorrow; I will give you my answer then.


I have paid my dues; therefore, I expect all the privileges listed in the contract.
Rule 2 It is preferable to use a semicolon before introductory words such as namely, however, therefore, that is, i.e., for example, e.g., or for instance when they introduce a complete sentence. It is also preferable to use a comma after the introductory word.


You will want to bring many backpacking items; for example, sleeping bags, pans, and warm clothing will make the trip better.
    As we discussed, you will bring two items; i.e., a sleeping bag and a tent are not optional.
Rule 3 Use the semicolon to separate units of a series when one or more of the units contain commas.
  Example This conference has people who have come from Boise, Idaho; Los Angeles, California; and Nashville, Tennessee.
Rule 4 Use the semicolon between two sentences that are joined by a conjunction but already have one or more commas within the first sentence.
  Examples When I finish here, I will be glad to help you; and that is a promise I will keep.
    If she can, she will attempt that feat; and if her husband is able, he will be there to see her.


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1. Straus, Jane. "Semicolons." The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation.
         Published with permission.