The Oatmeal calls semicolons “the most feared punctuation on earth”. If you’re afraid, don’t be! This lesson will be quick, easy, and solve your semicolon woes.
An independent clause is a complete thought with a subject and a verb; it can be a complete sentence. You can join independent clauses with either a comma and a coordinating conjunction, or with a semicolon
Comma and coordinating conjunction: Today we’re having lasagna for dinner, and I’m making apple pie for dessert.
Semicolon: Today we’re having lasagna for dinner; I’m making apple pie for dessert.
Comma and coordinating conjunction: Caitlin studies Russian literature, and she wants to be a professor.
Semicolon: Caitlin studies Russian literature; she wants to be a professor.
As you can see, both of these methods work, but sometimes one sounds better than the other.
Note: Sometimes, especially in lengthy sentences, writers use a semicolon with a coordinating conjunction to avoid confusion.
This is the same principle as above. If your second independent clause starts with a conjunctive adverb, you can join it to the previous independent clause with a semicolon, not with a comma.
Trevor is a pizza fiend; however, he appears to be too full to eat the last slice.
The weather forecast is awful; therefore we’re going to stay home this weekend.
Look at this sentence:
I invited Karim, my best friend from high school, Maryam, my next-door neighbour, her sister, Sarah, and Yael.
How many people did I invite? If you have no idea, you’re right. In sentences like this, where there are modifiers set off by commas, it’s best to use semicolons to separate the items on the list.
I invited Karim, my best friend from high school; Maryam, my next-door neighbour; her sister, Sarah; and Yael.
Now it’s obvious that I invited four people.
That was pretty painless, wasn’t it?