The purpose of the semicolon

One way to think about the semicolon is in terms of pauses.

When you are reading and you hit a comma, you pause briefly, and then you carry on until you hit a full stop. This makes you pause a bit longer, perhaps even take a breath. And then you carry on again.

  • So if a comma is a small pause... 
  • And a period or full stop is a long pause...
  • Then a semicolon is sort of medium pause: less than a full stop, but more than a comma.

Why would you want this medium pause? Two possible reasons.

First, you want two statements to be just a little bit closer together because you think they are closely related.

Dad, meanwhile, was saying he was not asking me for the money; he was telling me to give it to him.

Second, to separate items in a list—especially if the items are wordy or have commas inside them. 

I liked to play in the graveyard after service; I liked my parents' pre- and post-commentary in the car; I liked being doted on by parishioners; and I loved, absolutely was infatuated with, Myra Narbonne.


Now let’s write some variations on snippets using semicolons.