2.3 The semicolon
Semicolons are used to join independent control units whose relation to each other you want to assert.
In this example, it would be grammatically correct to use a full-stop in place of the semicolon. The semicolon, however, emphasises the relation of meaning between the two clauses: the failure of the negotiations in the first control unit and the continuation of the war in the second.
In these examples, the semicolon accentuates the symmetry of the two clauses. Used in this way, the semicolon is an effective stylistic device for creating a sense of balance between the two ideas. As with all such stylistic devices, however, it should be used sparingly for maximum effect.
The semicolon is also used to separate items in a list where some of the items need internal commas.
In these examples, the semicolon functions in the same way as a comma to separate items in a list.
- Never use a semicolon where a comma is sufficient.
- Remember your aim is to write for reader friendliness towards clarity of meaning.
Although this is a long list introduced by a colon, a comma adequately separates each of the items.
Note, however, that if you want to add a phrase to only one of the items and need an internal comma, you must use semicolons between all items.
To avoid having to use semicolons in Example 4, you could enclose ‘which he thought might be an emerald’ in brackets.
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