Semicolons are commonly used to join two closely related independent clauses without the use of conjunctions. Harder than a comma but softer than a period, semicolons cannot be interchanged with commas or periods. The word following a semicolon should start with a capital letter only if it’s a proper noun or an acronym.
Semicolons and Independent Clauses
Independent clauses are complete sentences that can be joined by a semicolon if the two clauses are connected to each other. Replacing semicolons with periods would result in two separate sentences. As replacing semicolons with commas would result in comma splices, semicolons cannot be substituted by either commas or periods.
Example: I went to the grocery store to buy milk; the drive to the grocery store was terrible.
Replacing Conjunctions with Semicolons
As semicolons are used to replace conjunctions, both of them cannot be used to merge two independent clauses into one sentence. You can either choose an appropriate conjunction or a semicolon. In a sentence, semicolons can substitute commas and conjunctions.
When commas are used to split related independent clauses, it causes comma splices. Instead, add in a conjunction or substitute with a semicolon. Semicolons can also be used to signify contrast. In such circumstances, if a conjunction is used, the appropriate choice would be but not and. Even if two separate clauses are contradictory, it can be joined with a semicolon if they are closely related.
Example: I wanted to do take the job; it was a tough time in my life.
Semicolons and Lists
Semicolons can be used to segregate items on a list if the list is long or consist of internal punctuations. This is to help clarify items on lists and make them readable.
Example: You need to buy: a dozen eggs; maple syrup; cheese (mozzarella or cheddar); brown bread; and strawberry flavored yogurt.
Semicolons and Conjunctive Adverbs
When linking two independent clauses with a conjunctive adverb, a semicolon should be placed between them. Some commonly used conjunctive adverbs are moreover, nevertheless, however, otherwise, therefore, then, finally, and consequently.
As many of these words are utilized quite often, a semicolon can be used only when such conjunctive adverbs link two independent clauses. As with conjunctions, the two independent clauses should be individually complete sentences and be related to each other.
Example: I wanted to travel the world; however, I had to get a job.
Semicolons and Emoticons
In informal or casual writing, emoticons are often used to signify feelings and expressions. A common punctuation mark used in emoticons are semicolons. So, whether in a grammatically accurate complex sentence or a sly emoticon, the semicolon is a helpful punctuation mark to use.