When to Use Semicolon Instead of a Comma: Grammar Guide - Owlcation - Education
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When to Use Semicolon Instead of a Comma: Grammar Guide

When should you use a semicolon and when should you use a comma?

The bottom line: it's up to you. Semicolons and commas are used to link two sentences or independent clauses. An independent clause must contain a subject and a verb. You have the choice of leaving one independent clause alone and ending it with a period, or you may link two independent clauses together with either a comma or semicolon. As long as you follow the simple rules for commas and semicolons, grammatically, either way you will be correct.

Correct Usage of the Semicolon (;)

The semicolon is used when connecting two sentences or independent clauses. Unlike the comma, you do not use coordinating conjunctions, e.g., and, or, but, etc. A semicolon can also be used when connecting two independent clauses with conjunctive adverbs, e.g., however, therefore, thus, otherwise, etc. When beginning the second independent clause after a semicolon, do not use a capital.

  • I love chocolate mint gelato; it's not as healthy as yogurt.
  • I love chocolate mint gelato; however, it's not as healthy as yogurt
  • Yesterday, we went to Walter Haas Park; Georgia was exhausted when we got home.
  • Yesterday, we went to Walter Haas Park; thus, Georgia was exhausted when we got home.

Correct Usage of the Comma with Independent Clauses

When linking two independent clauses with coordinating conjunctions (and, but, or, for, so, nor, yet), place the comma before the conjunction. Remember: do not use the comma if you do not have two independent clauses.

  • I love chocolate mint gelato, but it's not as healthy as yogurt.
  • Yesterday, we went to Walter Haas Park, and Georgia was exhausted when we got home.
  • Yesterday, we went to Walter Haas Park and were exhausted afterward. (There is no comma before the "and" here because "were exhausted afterward" is not a complete sentence.

OOPS- Common Mistakes

  • These sentences contain two independent clauses without coordinating conjunctions; thus, you need to use a semicolon and not a comma.

She was a great dancer, she danced for the Hubbard Street Ballet Company. INCORRECT

She was a great dancer; she danced for the Hubbard Street Ballet Company. CORRECT

  • "Thus" is a conjunctive verb that is connecting two independent clauses. Commas are not used with conjunctive verbs and independent clauses.

She was a great dancer, thus, she danced for the Hubbard Street Ballet Company. INCORRECT

She was a great dancer; thus, she danced for the Hubbard Street Ballet Company. CORRECT

  • In some instances it is best to use semicolons instead of commas. For example, when there are lists that contain more than one word a comma may cause confusion. In the below examples, the first and third sentences are confusing because we are unsure of which items are being listed.

I love dancers: they are graceful, which is evident by their delicate movements, they are hard working, which shows through their strength in their movements, and they are disciplined, which we can see through their precision of steps. INCORRECT

I love dancers: they are graceful, which is evident by their delicate movements; they are hard working, which shows through their strength in their movements; and they are disciplined, which we can see through their precision of steps. CORRECT

He was campaigning in Los Angeles, California, Lincoln, Nebraska, Boston, Massachusetts, and Providence, Rhode Island. INCORRECT

He was campaigning in Los Angeles, California; Lincoln, Nebraska; Boston, Massachusetts; and Providence, Rhode Island. CORRECT

Questions & Answers

Question: In saying "thanks Ann" should there be a comma after thanks?

Answer: Yes, "Thanks, Ann" is correct.

Question: Would I use a semi-colon in this instance, "Tom; let's get going."?

Answer: You should use a comma when addressing a person, e.g., "Tom, let's get going."

Thoughts, Comments or Questions?

Dave L. on March 20, 2020:

Complete sentence after a semi-colon, I believe. So, that would typically be a comma, methinks. But in this case I would use an em dash since you already used a comma earlier in the sentence.

valorie fant on March 16, 2020:

When a young girl of color is angrily told to go back to her country, she is faced with an unpleasant reality; a reality that takes her on an insightful journey through time and discovery.

Is this correct?

David on July 19, 2017:

Most sources agree that coordinating conjunctions (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so), only require only a comma in front of them when they connect two independent clauses. Yet, when a conjunction (such as however, therefore, moreover, thus) is used to connect two independent clauses, a semicolon is required. It seems to me that permitting a comma to be used in front of a coordinating conjunction is merely a "modern convention;" and, to me, it defies logic. (Get it?) Following are some (more) examples to support my contention:

1) "I only go swimming in summer; however, I have thought about going polar diving." Now, if I change just ONE word (and substitute "but" for "however"), I am, in this instance (if I am to follow the "rules" and look like I know what I'm doing), "required" to drop the semicolon altogether and substitute it with a COMMA (even though I am STILL connecting two INDEPENDENT clauses and NOT changing the meaning of the sentence one iota). Example: "I only go swimming in summer, but I have thought about going polar diving."

2) Here's another example: "I have some reservations about this English punctuation rule; although, I do try to follow the rules." Here again, if I change just ONE word (and change "although" to "yet")...(and IF I wish to follow the "rules")...I am required to drop the semicolon (as well as the comma following), and again connect two, completely INDEPENDENT clauses with a comma! "I have some reservations about this English punctuation rule, yet I do try to follow the rules."

Notice that I have changed but ONE word. I have not changed the meaning of the sentence(s), at all.

"I could go on with many more examples; however, I believe I've made my point." Or is it: "I could go on with many more examples, but I believe I've made my point."

For the sake of consistency, if nothing else, would it not be better to always use the semicolon...and a comma following the connecting word? We use the semicolon when there is NO connecting word. We use the semicolon with SOME connecting words (and those are followed by a comma). Yet, the "rules: say that when we connect two independent clauses with certain OTHER words, we are to use a COMMA to join the two independent clauses. It has been many years since I have diagrammed sentences, but this "comma rule" makes NO sense to me. Is it, as I offered at the outset, just a "modern convention? Or am I missing something here?

linda on January 15, 2015:

Thank you so much, Robin, for your advice. I have been losing APA credit because of the comma v semicolon dilemma Such a simple thing and yet it causes so much trouble.

annonymous on May 01, 2013:

Evident is correct.

Paul Deeds from Berkeley on August 31, 2012:

I believe you should use evidenced instead of evident in this sentence.

"I love dancers: they are graceful, which is evident by their delicate movements ..."

Mark on June 07, 2012:

What if you have three independent clauses using commas and semi-colons?

"In our meeting, we can talk about cats; we can talk wildly about birds, or we can not talk about Pacific fish." Should the semi-colon be replaced by a comma, since, though they are independent clauses, this is actually a list?

Laura on May 30, 2012:

Thanks for such an informative and clearly expressed explanation! This is the closest I've ever come to understanding the concept; I may actually retain some of it! (I think that was the first semicolon I ever attempted by choice, rather than by some random slip-of-the-finger typo.)

godscyd on May 22, 2012:

Would a statement before a semi colon be implied in the next statement? Example" The Chairman and Treasurer must be a member of the community and be in good standing; the vice chairperson and Secretary may be a trial member."

Would "in good standing" be applied to the second half

of the statement automatically in addition to being able to be a trial member?

Marcelo on February 01, 2012:

@ joe - you should use a dash when giving a definition or additional information about a certain word or phrase in your sentence; e.g The teacher spoke of mammals - animals that feed on milk in their early growth.

Michelle on January 21, 2012:

Where would the comma go in What's To Come Is Better Than What's Been

joe on January 02, 2012:

When do you use the dash in a sentence.

Adam on December 06, 2011:

Would I use a semicolon or a comma if saying:

I'm pretty sure it's tomato, not potato.

I'm pretty sure it's tomato; not potato.

?

victoria from Hamilton On. on November 01, 2011:

Robin.Thanks!

Bet you didn't know how needy we all are!

Wonderful hub.I will keep it close!

Kristi on October 19, 2011:

Lisa,

I would use:

Arise, shine, for your light has come. [the NIV uses this version as well]

However, other translations (ASV & NKJV, for example) use Arise, shine; for your light has come.

Jackie on October 06, 2011:

do you use a comma or semicolon before yes or correct at the end of a sentence? i.e. And he spoke to you about the injuries that he received that day; correct?

Sally on September 09, 2011:

Thanks Robin, it helps me a lot before my TOEFL exam!

Claire-ify on August 30, 2011:

Hi robin I have a huge test on these Puncuation rules and I don't get them at all I'm only 13 but I need help!!

Lisa on August 26, 2011:

Please help. What punctuation would be accurate in the following sentence?

Arise shine for your light has come.

I am considering the following, Arise; shine for your light has come.

Thank you.

Robin Edmondson (author) from San Francisco on July 26, 2011:

Thanks, Esme. I greatly appreciate the feedback and look forward to reading more of your Hubs!

Aisling Ireland from Bolingbroke, GA on July 26, 2011:

Robin, this is wonderful information as are your other grammar hubs. Thanks for taking the time to provide this information. As a former English major, I love it when I see grammar lessons. In the age of texting, I think grammar and spelling are becoming a lost arts.

Mr. Dumass on March 09, 2011:

Is this correct usage a a semicolon?

So, we have something's in common; can we talk?

htodd from United States on March 04, 2011:

Great hub ,Thanks for sharing details

Lucas on February 21, 2011:

Comma or semi-colon?

My family really wanted to make so many moves, but it had to do so. Because it was necessary for my father´s ``,´´ or ``;´´ we moved almost every year.

Hue Noet on February 08, 2011:

Karen you are the best!!!!!

Tootie on December 31, 2010:

Is it right to use a semicolon in this sentence and are my commas used correctly?

She concludes that even though in Russia people were not living a good materialistic life, they felt happy and close to each other; whereas, many people in Canada are living a good materialistic life, but they are unhappy and lonely because they lack the blessings of true friendship.

Anonymous Coward on December 29, 2010:

Does a colon always folows a complete sentance or independent clause?

"The bottom line: it's up to you."

Lucy on December 29, 2010:

I am wondering if the semicolans use below are correct or if commas would be better.

"She will be deeply missed by her husband and best friend, Steve, her loving sons, Derrick Rossi and Jared Rossi; her parents; and her four sisters."

Thanks for your help.

kldgbb on November 02, 2010:

How about this in this sentence?

"This necessitates maintaining situational awareness of all systems and system configurations across the organization, evaluating the security impact of actual and proposed changes, assessing all security controls, collecting, correlating and analyzing security-related information, actionable communication of security status across all levels of the organization, and active management of risk by organizational officials."

I like the comma, but my colleague prefers the semi colon. Is the semi colon preferable because the "collecting, correlating and analyzing" part in the middle of the list?

Dennis on October 28, 2010:

This helped me so much. Thank you!

Jeansi on October 28, 2010:

Where would you use comma or semi colon in this paragraph?

A career in the bio-medical engineering program would be a perfect fit for the university and me. As a student, I will bring my enthusiasm for sports, my community involvement, my academic achievement and leadership skills to enhance the university. I truly believe that the University of Wisconsin gives me the best opportunity to achieve my goals while enriching the community.

Alfreta Sailor from Southern California on October 26, 2010:

Robin, what a great English lesson. I've always shied away from using the semicolon, because of being unsure of just how to use it. I can't wait to peruse your other teaching hubs. I'll now have to watch how I word my comments, LOL!

velmaster on October 26, 2010:

thanks your information was useful

velmaster on October 26, 2010:

thanks your information was useful

Help! on July 15, 2010:

Would I put a comma after the word "goodbye" in the following sentence?

When you and I said goodbye, I felt the angels cry.

adorababy from Syracuse, NY on July 01, 2010:

I never really gave a fuss on the difference between these two but after reading your post, I actually have to think over the instances that I have incorrectly used the comma and the semi colon. Thanks.

JoeK on May 05, 2010:

Thanks, Robin! I have found your advice much easier to follow than most of the other grammar sites. Would you mind clarifying something regarding an earlier post? Which of the following sentences is considered to be grammatically correct? This first sentence is the one you had suggested.

It was the longest journey of my life, nine months.

It was the longest journey of my life: nine months.

It was the longest journey of my life - nine months.

In this situation, I remember being taught to use the colon but I guess there could be more than one correct way of writing it.

Thanks either way!

Frances_30s from Texas on May 05, 2010:

Great hub. I teach grammar and still like to read about it in my spare time!

cr on April 29, 2010:

Hey Robin, just came across your hub for no real reason, but I enjoyed the discussions. I'll be sure to add your site to my bookmarks.

mrteacher from London on April 19, 2010:

Good clear hub Robin; I'm writing a book on here, so your pages will come in handy! Hope I've used the colon and comma correct...

Robin Edmondson (author) from San Francisco on February 04, 2010:

Thanks, Ann!

Ann Nonymous from Virginia on February 04, 2010:

Hi Robin...So glad I found you on the hub. Have you ever heard of Grammar Girl? She's been on Oprah, has books and such... well you are now my personal grammar girl on HP!!! This is great!

rvsrinivasan on January 03, 2010:

Knowing things brings immense pleasure. I came to know there is a lot to learn. I am a kid. I have made some attempts to write hubs. May please see.

Tom on December 20, 2009:

What is incorrect with this sentence. "John Doe he wanted to go to the game.

Rose Benjamin on November 21, 2009:

Robin, where have you been all my internet life?! I hope your excellent teaching catches on.

Jonathan on October 28, 2009:

THANKS--have been trying to figure out the ; and , usage on a resume. I've been using the format you referred to but was never sure it was acceptable.

BTW--it's "Hubbard Street Dance Chicago" now. It was never "Ballet" since all the rep is modern ballet/modern jazz.

Epsilon5 from Eastern Pennsylvania on August 01, 2009:

Excellent article. Very helpful. :)

ahana on July 31, 2009:

Hi Robin, need help with commas for this sentence. I think needs to be used before the conjunction.

"FIN is best suited for children and adolescents because it does not interfere with the growth process and has the lowest complication rate"

Kim on June 25, 2009:

I work in the funeral home industry and have seen obituaries written in a hundred different ways.

Would it be correct to say, "He is survived by three daughters, Jane Doe; Janice Doe; Jackie Doe; three sons, John Doe; Jack Doe; James Doe; etc...."

or

"He is survived by three daughters, Jane Doe, Janice Doe, and Jackie Doe; three sons, John Doe, Jack Doe and James Doe; etc...."?

Thanks!

Cat on June 08, 2009:

Hi there. If I'm writing a list such as "Director Jane1 Harris; Pianist Jane2 Harris; Clarinetist Jane3 Harris" would it be correct to use the semicolon or should I use a comma? Thanks...Cat

Bell on May 29, 2009:

It's all so clear now. Thankyou

The Real Tomato on February 03, 2009:

Very relavent topic and one I needed to read. We all get spelling check but not grammar check.

Thank you for helping us out.

Herbie on October 14, 2008:

My question regards colons vs. semi-colons. I found the following at Robert McKee's site (he's the writing guru, puts on those famous seminars, was featured in the movie "Adaptation"): "Quality story structure demands creativity; It cannot be reduced to simple formulas that impose a rigid number of mandatory story elements...."

Possibly that should be a colon instead of a semi-colon, but my real question is that I think "it" should not be capitalized. What's the rule about capitalization after a semi-colon?

marymarin from Ada, Michigan on May 14, 2008:

Hi all,

I am wondering if it is ever allowable to omit commas before and after the word "therefore." For example, in this instance:

Fewer meals are eaten at home, and therefore there are fewer opportunities to teach children about appropriate portion size and healthy food choices.

I think that commas should be omitted because the "therefore" is essential in this case. When it is removed, serious damage to the meaning of the sentence results.

Opinions?

accounting book keeping on March 06, 2008:

Useful article, thanks!

RFox on December 24, 2007:

I too am glad you wrote this hub! When I went through school I was in an experimental year where they decided not to teach grammar only reading comprehension. Safe to say my vocabulary rocks and my grammar leaves something to be desired. Usually I rely on my trusty computer 'grammar watch' to aid me in tricky situations. However, now that I'm older and in the process of learning a foreign language; truly understanding grammar has become imperative. See I need your help! Great hubs!

sminut13 from singapore on December 07, 2007:

i esp love the area where you have given examples of colons, semi-colons and commas. it's enlightening. from the examples itself, i can more or less, know their difference and guess why it's like that if you understand what i mean. thanks lots.

Kowgirl on October 10, 2007:

Where des the commas go in this sentence?

Now, if all you guys, out there, still want to come in for, a dose of arbitrary thoughts that might or might not tickle your funny bone, you are welcome.

Bren216 on July 16, 2007:

First, you said that "thus" is a conjunctive adverb, later you called it a "conjunctive verb." How can it be both?

Robin Edmondson (author) from San Francisco on July 11, 2007:

Hi Sandy,

I would not use a semi-colon because nine months is not a complete sentence. A comma would be fine. It was the longest journey of my life, nine months. Thanks for the question!

Sandy Zahn on July 11, 2007:

It was the longest journey of my life; nine months.

Comma or semi-colon?

Thanks

Robin Edmondson (author) from San Francisco on May 08, 2007:

Thanks for the comment, John D Lee!

John D Lee on May 07, 2007:

Ah, those tricky semi colons! Thanks for clarifying.

Robin Edmondson (author) from San Francisco on April 10, 2007:

Hi Marie,

I would use semicolons instead of commas just to reduce confusion. You could also display in bullet form with each skill having a new bullet. Below is one way it can be done. I don't know what "AP" and "AR" are, you may want to clarify this.

Duties include: maintaining accounting records using QuickBooks Enterprise Edition 2006; setup and monthly preparation of financial statements; setup and maintenance of annual budget, including sales quotas in Excel and QuickBooks for ongoing variance analysis; bank reconciliations; AP; AR; daily cash management using online banking; sales and use tax reports; data entry; and other administrative duties as required by President and CEO.

Hope that helps! Good luck with the job search!!

Marie on April 08, 2007:

I am working on my resume and in trying to be consistent I am a little list on the semi colon vs comma i am listing job duties for example

Duties include maintaining accounting records using QuickBooks Enterprise Edition 2006, setup and monthly preparation of financial statements, setup and maintenance of annual budget including sales quotas in Excel and QuickBooks for ongoing variance analysis, bank reconciliations, AP, AR, daily cash management using online banking, sales and use tax reports, data entry and other administrative duties as required by President and CEO.

Sorry for such a big example but it is actually the smallest in my resume.

Robin Edmondson (author) from San Francisco on March 25, 2007:

Hi Tom, 

It depends on your reference.  If you are saying "got" in the place of "received", (e.g., I got $15 for my birthday,) then "got" is fine.  If you mean "in my possession" I would use "have", (e.g., I have $15 in my pocket).  Hope that helps!

Tom on March 25, 2007:

Isn't it incorrect to use "I GOT $15". instead of "I have $15" when you are saying what you have in your posession

Robin Edmondson (author) from San Francisco on March 15, 2007:

Thanks for the catch, Dave! Cheers!

Dave Smith on March 15, 2007:

Really liked the examples, thanks. I noticed a little typo and thought you should know:

The use of commas instead of semicolons is not advised when it there are multiple commas that may cause confusion. The first and third sentences are confusing because we are unsure of which items are being listed and separated by commas.

all the best

Dave

Robin Edmondson (author) from San Francisco on February 15, 2007:

Hi Kerin,

The sentence sounds a bit long-winded.  I would restate it, "Watching television wasn't an option; she didn't understand it and, therefore, wasn't interested."  There is not a comma before "and" because "therefore, wasn't interested" isn't a complete sentence. However, you need a comma before and after "therefore" because it is used as an interrupter in the sentence.   The sentence would still make sense if you omitted "therefore".  Hope that helps!  Great sentence to dissect!  ;)

kerin on February 15, 2007:

Where would you put the comma in the following sentence? 'Watching television wasn't an option as she didn't understand it and therefore wasn't interested.'

Robin Edmondson (author) from San Francisco on October 13, 2006:

Thanks for reading!

wajay_47 on October 12, 2006:

Once again, I'm a bit more enlightened. Thank you for this hub.

Robin Edmondson (author) from San Francisco on October 11, 2006:

For some reason, I like grammar-even though mine isn't always correct. Maybe it's one of my idiosyncrasies. I guess it's the teacher in me. Thanks for reading them! ;)

Jimmy the jock from Scotland on October 11, 2006:

Thanks Robin you will make a writer out of me yet lol.....jimmy

Robin Edmondson (author) from San Francisco on October 11, 2006:

In my opinion, brackets should not be used interchangeably with commas, semicolons or parenthesis. I use brackets in these instances: when there is a parenthesis inside a parenthetical sentence I begin and end with a bracket; when changing the upper or lowercase of a word in a quoted sentence; when adding information to a quoted sentence for clarification; or when indicating a misspelling in a quoted sentence, you use the term"[sic]". Hope this helps. It's probably more than you wanted to know. ;) Robin

Jimmy the jock from Scotland on October 11, 2006:

hi Robin a question lol. could i use brackets ( instead of a comma or a colon in some cases).

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