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When to Use Semicolon Instead of a Comma: Grammar Guide

Updated on July 30, 2013

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

Thoughts, Comments or Questions?

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    • profile image

      linda 2 years ago

      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.

    • profile image

      annonymous 4 years ago

      Evident is correct.

    • pauldeeds profile image

      Paul Deeds 4 years ago from Berkeley

      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 ..."

    • profile image

      Mark 4 years ago

      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?

    • profile image

      Laura 4 years ago

      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.)

    • profile image

      godscyd 5 years ago

      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?

    • profile image

      Marcelo 5 years ago

      @ 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.

    • profile image

      Michelle 5 years ago

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

    • profile image

      joe 5 years ago

      When do you use the dash in a sentence.

    • profile image

      Adam 5 years ago

      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.

      ?

    • baygirl33 profile image

      victoria 5 years ago from Hamilton On.

      Robin.Thanks!

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

      Wonderful hub.I will keep it close!

    • profile image

      Kristi 5 years ago

      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.

    • profile image

      Jackie 5 years ago

      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?

    • profile image

      Sally 5 years ago

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

    • profile image

      Claire-ify 5 years ago

      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!!

    • profile image

      Lisa 5 years ago

      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 profile image
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      Robin Edmondson 5 years ago from San Francisco

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

    • EsmeSanBona profile image

      EsmeSanBona 5 years ago from Macon

      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.

    • profile image

      Mr. Dumass 6 years ago

      Is this correct usage a a semicolon?

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

    • htodd profile image

      htodd 6 years ago from United States

      Great hub ,Thanks for sharing details

    • profile image

      Lucas 6 years ago

      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.

    • profile image

      Hue Noet 6 years ago

      Karen you are the best!!!!!

    • profile image

      Tootie 6 years ago

      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.

    • profile image

      Anonymous Coward 6 years ago

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

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

    • profile image

      Lucy 6 years ago

      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.

    • profile image

      kldgbb 6 years ago

      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?

    • profile image

      Dennis 6 years ago

      This helped me so much. Thank you!

    • profile image

      Jeansi 6 years ago

      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.

    • fastfreta profile image

      Alfreta Sailor 6 years ago from Southern California

      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!

    • profile image

      velmaster 6 years ago

      thanks your information was useful

    • profile image

      velmaster 6 years ago

      thanks your information was useful

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      Help! 6 years ago

      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 profile image

      adorababy 6 years ago from Syracuse, NY

      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.

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      JoeK 7 years ago

      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 profile image

      Frances_30s 7 years ago from Texas

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

    • profile image

      cr 7 years ago

      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 profile image

      mrteacher 7 years ago from London

      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 profile image
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      Robin Edmondson 7 years ago from San Francisco

      Thanks, Ann!

    • Ann Nonymous profile image

      Ann Nonymous 7 years ago from Virginia

      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 profile image

      rvsrinivasan 7 years ago

      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.

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      Tom 7 years ago

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

    • Rose Benjamin profile image

      Rose Benjamin 7 years ago

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

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      Jonathan  7 years ago

      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 profile image

      Epsilon5 7 years ago from Eastern Pennsylvania

      Excellent article. Very helpful. :)

    • profile image

      ahana 7 years ago

      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"

    • profile image

      Kim 7 years ago

      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!

    • profile image

      Cat 7 years ago

      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

    • profile image

      Bell 7 years ago

      It's all so clear now. Thankyou

    • The Real Tomato profile image

      The Real Tomato 8 years ago

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

      Thank you for helping us out.

    • profile image

      Herbie 8 years ago

      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?

    • profile image

      marymarin 9 years ago from Ada, Michigan

      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?

    • profile image

      accounting book keeping 9 years ago

      Useful article, thanks!

    • RFox profile image

      RFox 9 years ago

      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 profile image

      sminut13 9 years ago from singapore

      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.

    • profile image

      Kowgirl 9 years ago

      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.

    • profile image

      Bren216 9 years ago

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

    • Robin profile image
      Author

      Robin Edmondson 9 years ago from San Francisco

      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!

    • profile image

      Sandy Zahn 9 years ago

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

      Comma or semi-colon?

      Thanks

    • Robin profile image
      Author

      Robin Edmondson 10 years ago from San Francisco

      Thanks for the comment, John D Lee!

    • John D Lee profile image

      John D Lee 10 years ago

      Ah, those tricky semi colons! Thanks for clarifying.

    • Robin profile image
      Author

      Robin Edmondson 10 years ago from San Francisco

      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!!

    • profile image

      Marie 10 years ago

      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 profile image
      Author

      Robin Edmondson 10 years ago from San Francisco

      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!

    • profile image

      Tom 10 years ago

      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 profile image
      Author

      Robin Edmondson 10 years ago from San Francisco

      Thanks for the catch, Dave! Cheers!

    • profile image

      Dave Smith 10 years ago

      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 profile image
      Author

      Robin Edmondson 10 years ago from San Francisco

      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!  ;)

    • profile image

      kerin 10 years ago

      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 profile image
      Author

      Robin Edmondson 10 years ago from San Francisco

      Thanks for reading!

    • profile image

      wajay_47 10 years ago

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

    • Robin profile image
      Author

      Robin Edmondson 10 years ago from San Francisco

      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! ;)

    • jimmythejock profile image

      James Paterson 10 years ago from Scotland

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

    • Robin profile image
      Author

      Robin Edmondson 10 years ago from San Francisco

      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

    • jimmythejock profile image

      James Paterson 10 years ago from Scotland

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

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