The semicolon is stronger than a comma, but weaker than a full stop. Semicolons are not as common as full stops or commas. Don’t write capital letters after semicolons, unless writing a name or proper noun.
You can use a semicolon instead of a full stop between two main clauses when:
- the second clause restates the first
- There was a flood in April last year; it rained non stop for two weeks.
- the meaning of the two clauses is connected
- My sister has three children; the children all have brown hair.
- instead of using a conjunction (and, because, so etc.) to separate the clauses
- The rain stopped; the sun came out.
Use a semicolon between two main clauses which are separated with a conjunction (and, or, but etc.) when a comma is used in one or both of the main clauses.
- James had, to put it mildly, a lot of problems; and even his best friend couldn’t help him.
- At work, we often eat breakfast together; and sometimes we also drink champagne.
Use a semicolon between two independent clauses when the second one starts with a conjunctive adverb (e.g. however, therefore, nevertheless, moreover, furthermore, still, instead, otherwise, thus) or a transitional words and phrases (on the other hand, in addition, in other words, for example etc).
- He didn’t feel well; in fact, he had a very high temperature.
- Darcy doesn’t normally eat sweets; however, he makes an exception on his birthday.
- I didn’t know Lisa was pregnant; otherwise, I would have said congratulations.
Brush up on the use of commas in main clause in the writing school section of the website.
Use a semicolon in lists when items in the list already contain a comma.
- We have business partners in Edmonton, Canada; Waterford, Ireland; Brisbane, Australia; and Durban, South Africa.
- Last week I bought three cushions: a red, yellow and green one; a pink, purple and orange one; and a white one.
Use a semicolon when listing phrases or clauses which are longer or more complex.
- You may use the communal kitchen on the condition that you clean up after yourself; that you are respectful with other hostel guests; that you label all food stored in the fridge; and that you do not remove any supplies from the kitchen/dining area.
See also: Comma: Lists, Colon: Lists, Brackets: Lists
Go to comma, colon and brackets to learn more about punctuation in lists.