4 Punctuation

4.4 Semicolon

The semicolon marks a separation that is stronger than a comma but less strong than a full point. It divides two or more main clauses that are closely related and complement or parallel each other, and that could stand as sentences in their own right. When one clause explains another a colon is more suitable (see 4.5).

  • Truth ennobles man; learning adorns him

  • The road runs through a beautiful wooded valley; the railway line follows it closely

In a sentence that is already subdivided by commas, a semicolon can be used instead of a comma to indicate a stronger division:

He came out of the house, which lay back from the road, and saw her at the end of the path; but instead of continuing towards her, he hid till she had gone

In a list where any of the elements themselves contain commas, use a semicolon to clarify the relationship of the components:

They pointed out, in support of their claim, that they had used the materials stipulated in the contract; that they had taken every reasonable precaution, including some not mentioned in the code; and that they had employed only qualified workers, all of whom were very experienced

This is common in lists with internal commas, where semicolons structure the internal hierarchy of its components:

I should like to thank the Warden and Fellows of All Souls College, Oxford; the staff of the Bodleian Library, Oxford; and the staff of the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York

Since it can be confusing and unattractive to begin a sentence with a symbol, especially one that is not a capital letter, the semicolon can replace a full point:

Let us assume that a is the crude death rate and b life expectancy at birth; a will signal a rise in …

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