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How to Use Semi-Colons

Learn how to use semi-colons correctly from Gotham Writers' Workshop instructor Stephanie Paterik in this Howcast grammar video.


I'm going to talk with you about the semicolon and how to use it correctly in a sentence. I find it helpful to think of punctuation in terms of driving metaphors. And so in this case the semicolon would be like the California stop. you know when you roll up to a stop sign and you tap the brakes but you don't stop completely? Stopping completely would be a period. If you don't stop completely and you keep rolling through, that's what I would call a semicolon. In other words, it sort of slows you down in the sentence, you almost come to a stop but not a full stop.

This is what it would look like in a sentence, "Do not fear the semicolon; it often is optional." So, it's used to link 2 ideas. When we have 2 complete thoughts in a sentence, one way that we can link them is with a semicolon and in this case we have our first complete thought, "Do not fear the semicolon." We've got a subject, a verb, a complete thought. It could be a sentence on its own. But if we want to join it to another idea, we just put a semicolon and then we move on to our next idea. "It often is optional." That is also a complete thought.

So, we've correctly joined the 2 of them with a semicolon and one thing that I want you to not is that the word "it" stays lowercase. So, when there's a semicolon in the middle of 2 thoughts, it's still all one sentence and we keep the word that comes after it lowercase. So, that's how you use a semicolon.

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