Using Semicolons With Independent Clauses
Periods are a stop sign.
Commas are a slow-down sign.
They can’t be connected by a comma because they are both independent sentences that don’t absolutely need each other to survive. It’s sort of a speed limit sign. A comma tells the reader to hesitate for a fraction of a moment. A period says to stop completely, perhaps even taking a breath. But the semicolon is somewhere in the middle. It instructs the reader to slow down a bit longer so as to notice the connection between the two ideas.
Look at the sentence below. Could you replace the comma with a semicolon?
Janet ate cereal for breakfast, but John had pancakes.
At first glance, it might seem that you could, because you can correctly say:
Janet ate cereal for breakfast. John had pancakes.
However, there is a pesky little word stuck in-between those two sentences. If the words but, and, or, nor, for, or yet are between the sentences, you can’t use the semicolon unless you remove that little connector.
Janet ate cereal for breakfast; but John had pancakes.
Janet ate cereal for breakfast; John had pancakes.
Janet and John had cereal for breakfast; the monster then had Janet and John for breakfast.
Some connecting words do allow for semicolon. You can tuck a semicolon into sentences containing certain connectors, such as “for example” or otherwise. These types of words are usually followed by a comma.
I did not win fame and fortune for my invention, however, my mother thought my Baby Muzzle was a clever idea.
I did not win fame and fortune for my invention; however, my mother thought my Baby Muzzle was a clever idea.
Semicolons should not be the most common punctuation in your article. Use them sparingly, but correctly.
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