The semicolon: it’s a confusing little punctuation mark that stirs debate. Here’s what you need to know.

How to use it

The semicolon (;) can be used to join two separate, but closely related sentences. The semicolon can also be used to separate units of a series or clauses when one or more of these contain commas.

  • Example: Let’s talk tomorrow; I will have an update for you then.
    • The use of the semicolon in this situation is optional. You may decide to use a period instead, creating two sentences.
  • Example: We will welcome employees from our Tulsa, Oklahoma; Paris, France; and Tokyo, Japan offices.
    • In this case, you need to use semicolons.

But … do you want to use it?  

When it comes to the optional use of semicolons—that is, joining two closely related sentences—there’s debate among writers and editors. Some believe they don’t belong in conversational writing and advocate for two separate sentences. Others, however, admire the practicality.

Abraham Lincoln once asserted, “With educated people, I suppose, punctuation is a matter of rule; with me it is a matter of feeling. But I must say I have great respect for the semicolon; it’s a useful little chap.”

Kurt Vonnegut disagreed. He said, “Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.”

What’s your stance on semicolons? Do you find them useful? Are you on team Lincoln or Vonnegut?

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