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Best Practice

When to use semicolons

Semicolons are often misused, and they are also underused. Get comfortable with the following usage guidelines.

  • Between independent coordinating clauses when and, but, or, or nor are omitted.
    Jenny likes to go to restaurants on the river; Jake does not.
  • Between clauses when one or both clauses have internal commas.
    Our department requested the use of a conference room, a speaker phone, and two laptop computers on June 23; and the Service Center made sure everything was in place.

The first clause above has a list separated by commas, so a semicolon is used to separate the clauses.

  • Between independent clauses when one clause contains a transitional phrase or word.
    We wanted to go to the movies last weekend; however, the theater was closed for renovations.

These are three uses for semicolons. Make sure you have a grammar and punctuation reference manual, and refer to it when you're uncertain about constructing a sentence. Don't rely on the application spelling, grammar, and punctuation checker. It is often wrong.