Connecting Two Related Sentences
When you have two independent clauses, you typically write them as two complete sentences. As you can imagine, in some cases, two sentences may contain related ideas. When that happens, you can link them together with a semicolon.
Original Sentences: Dan lives on a farm. He’s the handyman.
Because the two sentences above closely relate to one another, you may decide to combine them. By doing so, you’re letting the readers know that they should pause between the clauses, but not for a full stop, as they would with a period.
New Sentence: Dan lives on a farm; he’s the handyman.
In the example above, you’re taking two complete sentences and joining them with a semicolon. As a result, the second independent clause no longer requires a capital H. Instead, you’ve joined the two sentences into one super-sentence with only one capitalized letter.
Conjunctive Adverbs and Transitions
To tell you the truth, you’ve already learned both of the use cases for a semicolon. It’s that simple! Still, you may decide to add some style to your super-sentence by dressing it up at the point of contact. Where the two sentences link together, feel free to add a conjunctive adverb or a transition.
Here are a few examples of conjunctive adverbs:
Here are a few examples of transitional phrases:
- In addition
- In other words
- To put it differently
- First of all
- In summary
When you use a semicolon with a conjunctive adverb or transitional phrase, you should place the semicolon after the first clause. Next, add the conjunctive adverb or transition. After that, insert a comma. Finish up with the second clause.
Example: Semicolons go between independent clauses; in other words, they link two full sentences together.
In the sentence above, you see two independent clauses. 1) Semicolons go between independent clauses. 2) They link two full sentences together. These ideas are connected by a semicolon, a transitional phrase, and a comma. In this case, the transitional phrase is “in other words.”
Here’s the trickiest part of using semicolons. You’ll need to know the difference between coordinating conjunctions and conjunctive adverbs. If a coordinating conjunction connects two clauses, you can’t use a semicolon. On the other hand, if a conjunctive adverb connects two clauses, you must use a semicolon. Tricky, indeed!
Let’s combine the following two sentences.
Jill likes coffee. She hates tea.
If you combine the sentences with a coordinating conjunction, you cannot use a semicolon.
Jill likes coffee because she hates tea.
Jill likes coffee, but she hates tea.
Jill likes coffee, and she hates tea.
Jill likes coffee, so she hates tea.
If you combine the sentences with a conjunctive adverb, you must use a semicolon.
Jill likes coffee; however, she hates tea.
Jill likes coffee; conversely, she hates tea.
Rules to Remember
- When you use a semicolon, do not capitalize the next word unless it’s a proper noun
- Don’t include a space before the semicolon
- Use a semicolon in a list or series that contains internal punctuation
- Use a semicolon to join one complete thought to another
- There’s no limit to the number of semicolons you can use in a sentence
- Don’t use a semicolon with a coordinating conjunction
- When you use a transitional phrase or conjunctive adverb after a semicolon, be sure to follow it with a comma
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Kari Lisa Johnson
I’m an award-winning playwright with a penchant for wordplay. After earning a perfect score on the Writing SAT, I worked my way through Brown University by moonlighting as a Kaplan Test Prep tutor. I received a BA with honors in Literary Arts (Playwriting)—which gave me the opportunity to study under Pulitzer Prize-winner Paula Vogel. In my previous roles as new media producer with Rosetta Stone, director of marketing for global ventures with The Juilliard School, and vice president of digital strategy with Up & Coming Media, I helped develop the voice for international brands. From my home office in Maui, Hawaii, I currently work on freelance and ghostwriting projects.