A semicolon (;) is a very clever punctuation mark as it alters the way we read and understand writing, almost without our realising it. Like other punctuation, a semicolon dictates the rhythm and pauses in writing.
It links two complete sentences where a full stop would make a complete break and it can be used to replace conjunctions such as ‘and’ or ‘but’.
I was uncertain what to do next; I couldn’t let them down.
The flowers are blooming; the trees are green.
It can be used to separate items in a complex list where items are described and if you used commas it would become confusing.
The archaeology collection was varied: fragile, historic manuscripts; yellowed, ancient bones; hundreds of coins.
You cannot use just a comma to link two sentences. This is a very common mistake called a run-on sentence. For example:
Elsa wrote many children's novels, she also wrote fifteen horrors. X
The Loch Ness Monster was spotted 8 times in the 1960s, I camped there for a year and did not see it once, I caught dozens of trout though.X
I arranged to meet Jeremy (the new gamekeeper) on the hour, he will have gone home by 10 past. X
These commas should be replaced by a full stop, a semicolon or a conjunction e.g. and.
Remember, if there is something you would particularly like to see covered then please email your requests to
firstname.lastname@example.org with RLS Literacy in the subject header.
Mrs N Bone - Head of English