The semicolon is used to denote a degree of separation greater than that
indicated by the comma, but less than that indicated by the colon. It
prevents the repetition of the comma and keeps apart the more important
members of the sentence. The semicolon is generally used in long
sentences, but may sometimes be properly used in short ones.
_Rules for the Use of the Semicolon_
1. When the members of a compound sentence are complex or contain
Franklin, like many others, was a printer; but, unlike the others,
he was student, statesman, and publicist as well.
With ten per cent of this flour the bread acquired a slight flavor
of rye; fifteen per cent gave it a dark color; a further addition
made the baked crumb very hard.
The meeting was composed of representatives from the following
districts: Newton, 4 delegates, 2 substitutes; Dorchester, 6
delegates, 3 substitutes; Quincy, 8 delegates, 4 substitutes;
Brookline, 10 delegates, 5 substitutes.
2. When the members of a compound sentence contain statements distinct,
but not sufficiently distinct to be thrown into separate sentences.
Sit thou a patient looker-on;
Judge not the play before the play be done;
Her plot has many changes; every day
Speaks a new scene. The last act crowns the play.
3. When each of the members of a compound sentence makes a distinct
statement and has some dependence on statements in the other member or
members of the sentence.
Wisdom hath builded her house; she hath hewn out her seven pillars;
she hath killed her beasts; she hath mingled her wine; she hath
furnished her table.
Each member of this sentence is nearly complete. It is not quite a full
and definite statement, but it is much more than a mere amplification
such as we might get by leaving out _she hath_ every time after the
first. In the former case we should use periods. In the latter we should
4. A comma is ordinarily used between the clauses of a compound sentence
that are connected by a simple conjunction, but a semicolon may be used
between clauses connected by conjunctive adverbs. Compare the following
The play was neither edifying nor interesting to him, and he decided
to change his plans.
The play was neither edifying nor interesting to him; therefore he
decided to change his plans.
5. To indicate the chapter references in scriptural citations.
Matt. i: 5, 7, 9; v: 1-10; xiv: 3, 8, 27.
The semicolon should always be put outside quotation marks unless it
forms a part of the quotation itself.
"Take care of the cents and the dollars will take care of
themselves"; a very wise old saying.
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