The semicolon is used between independent clauses not joined by a co-ordinating conjunction but too closely related to be separated by a period:
If the clauses are short and parallel, a comma may replace the semicolon:
Clauses joined by a co-ordinating conjunction may also be separated by a semicolon (instead of a comma) if they are the last two of a series of clauses separated by semicolons:
Use a semicolon if a sharper break is required than could be achieved with a comma (for emphasis or to convey antithesis):
Clauses joined by a conjunctive adverb usually require a semicolon between them, though a comma may suffice if the clauses are short:
Elliptical clauses are conventionally separated from each other and from the introductory clause by semicolons, with commas often marking the ellipsis (see 7.17 Omitted words):
The semicolon can be replaced by a comma, however, provided that the comma marking the ellipsis can be dropped:
Semicolons may be used in place of commas to separate parallel elements in a series if these elements are complex or contain internal punctuation, or if greater emphasis is desired:
Even a series of parallel subordinate clauses may be separated in this manner, provided that the resulting punctuation is not apt to confuse the reader.
Although most writers tend to underuse rather than overuse the semicolon, a writing style that employs a large number of semicolons is likely to be heavy and dull. Consider using the dash, colon or comma instead.
© Travaux publics et Services gouvernementaux Canada, 2013
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