Don't be afraid: Some guidelines for using semicolons

Punctuation helps a reader understand your story. Commas, periods, dashes and other marks convey the writer's voice. They signal an emphasis or tone in language, as well as telling a reader when to stop or pause.

Think of punctuation this way: The comma is a slight break in the thought of a sentence; the semicolon is a longer pause; and the dash represents an abrupt, dramatic turn.

Semicolons are used to indicate a greater separation of thought and information than a comma can indicate (for example, in the previous paragraph). Here are some other examples.

Use a semicolon to link independent clauses:
The package was due last week; it arrived today. (Using a comma here would create a comma splice.)

Use a semicolon to clarify a series if the series already includes commas:
He leaves a son, John Smith of Chicago; three daughters, Jane Smith of Chicago, Mary Smith of Denver and Susan Smith of Boston; and a sister, Mary Warren of San Francisco.

Place semicolons outside of quotations marks unless they are integral to the quoted material.

Taken from Cleaning Your Copy: Grammar, Style and More, a self-directed course at Poynter NewsU.

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    Vicki Krueger

    Vicki Krueger has worked with The Poynter Institute for more than 20 years in roles from editor to director of interactive learning and her current position as marketing communications manager.


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