When to use the semicolon
How to use the semi-colon properly
;) Recognize the symbol preceding this sentence? Semicolons are useful for more than the winking eye and sly smile from the technology generation. The origin of the semicolon actually predates texting.
Grammar laid first claim upon the use of the semicolon mainly to control run-on sentences.
The all-too familiar sentence that seems to go on forever forcing one to wonder: when is a period going to make an appearance?! Well, this is one of the convenient functions of a semicolon; it allows a sentence to go on without running on.
Punctuation is there for the same reason the written word is there: to emulate what is spoken. Those hard pauses, moments of silence, awkward moments, decisive declarations, and inquisitions are all emulated with punctuation marks:
? for inquisition
. for a full stop or a hard pause
! for a declaration
, for a partial pause
: for that inhalation before a list or awaited punch line
… for those awkward silences
; for a half pause
These marks are so that in written form the reader can imagine the conversation or “hear” what the writer is “saying.”
Well, in spoken conversation, some sentences can legitimately go on without a hard stop (that a period would imply when written). These are sentences that though complete grammatically, have a thought still to be uttered. Written, these would be two sentences each with their own period.
But, spoken there would be a half pause before continuing. Enter the semicolon’s function allowing such a circumstance to be written and still be grammatically correct.
Examples of the partial pause verses the hard pause:
>Call me later this week. I will give you the meeting minutes then.
>Call me later this week; I will give you the meeting minutes then.
It is up to the writer to decide on which punctuation mark will best represent the impact of the ideas as they were meant. In short, the primary function of a semicolon is the separating two complete clauses so that they may be included within the same sentence.
There is another useful function the semicolon offers. When writing lists, the rule is to separate items with commas until the last item is reached when a conjunction used is before listing the last item.
>For his birthday I am getting him a transformer, building blocks, and a race car.
However, if the list necessitates commas within it (like cities with states), it becomes odd to separate these with commas. Note how commas so soon after the commas preceding state initials would just look messy:
>I would consider relocating to Ruidoso, NM, Longview, CA, or Austin, TX.
Now consider this example, where the semicolon steps up:
>I would consider relocating to Ruidoso, NM; Longview, CA; or Austin, TX.
In sum, semicolons are a nifty combination of a period and comma, because it joins the functions of the two.
Reference book The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association