Expressive Punctuation: Semicolons

Basic semicolon examples

Item, feature; item, feature.

Normally when you write a list, you use commas between each item. Let’s look at an example of using semicolons in a list.

Long enough for my father to move up the academic ranks by taking promotions that took the two of them, and then the four of us, to Madison, Wisconsin; Rockville, Maryland; and, finally, Paoli, Pennsylvania.

LuckyAlice SeboldSource

One of the most common reasons to use semicolons in a list is because the items have their own commas. In this snippet, each item is a city, and a state:

...Madison, Wisconsin; Rockville, Maryland; and, finally, Paoli, Pennsylvania.

We lived everywhere: Sydney, Australia; Paris, France; Sao Paolo, Brazil.

But it doesn't just have to be a list of places; it can be a list where any item uses commas.

My school bag was full of surprises, like a slimy banana, which I scraped out; a rat skeleton, which I put in Anna's desk; a handful of loose peanut M&Ms, which I ate; and a mummified spider, which I kept.

I spent my birthday money on a whole bunch of junk, including an aquarium tank with a crack down the side; an old Twister set with the spinner missing; a collection of dolls, which all looked slightly creepy and evil; and an ant farm for Tom, who had told me that he wanted one for Christmas.

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