Semicolons

Kristin Fracchia
Lesson by Kristin Fracchia
Magoosh Expert
Learn More About Magoosh ACT
Welcome to yet another Magoosh ACT English punctuation lesson, because there's so much punctuation on this test. And this lesson is about one of my favorite punctuation marks, and that is the semicolon. So, first of all let's talk about, what is a semicolon? Well, a semicolon is a little punctuation mark that looks like this.

It has a dot and it has a comma underneath it. And the semicolon is somewhere between a period and a comma, in terms of how it acts. And you can remember this because it has both a period and a comma in it. See how that works? So, what a semicolon does is it joins together two independent clauses that are related.

So, for example, you don't have to have your own camping supplies to come on the trip; however, know that sleeping bags are first-come, first-serve. So the writer of this sentence wanted to indicate that these are related sentences. They wanted to put them together, but they didn't wanna use a comma and a conjunction, so they're just using a semi colon. A semicolon acts the same as a comma and a coordinating conjunction.

But, you don't want to use a semicolon with a coordinating conjunction. And we'll talk about that, or I'll remind you of that again a little bit later. You don't want to have semi colon and, semi colon or, semi colon but. Because technically in proper academic English, we don't want to be starting our sentences with and, or but, or, or, although sometimes, you'll see that in casual writing.

Now you maybe wondering about this, however. Well, we can start sentences with however. It's not a coordinating conjunction, it is, you know, a transition that can start a sentence. So that's fine in this case. Now you'll often, or not often, you'll sometimes see semicolons being used to separate complicated lists that have lots of commas in it.

So for example, a list of capitals and their respective states, or a list of capitals and their respective countries. Because you'd put a comma in between the name of the city and the name of the state or the country, and then you'd want to use a semicolon between each piece, so that you're not having a bunch of comma,s and it looks really confusing. But this is something you're not likely to see on this test.

I've never seen the test, test this issue. So if you've seen it, you know, definitely let me know. But I don't think you need to worry about it. We're just gonna focus on joining together sentences. So for the purposes of the test, semicolons always link two clauses that could stand alone as sentences or two independent clauses.

Another way of stating that, so for example, if we had a sentence that said by complaining to her teachers too often, Susanna jeopardized her college recommendation letter. This would be correct to use a comma here, because this first part could not stand alone as a sentence. It would be wrong to use a semicolon there, so be really careful not to do that.

And, watch out! I eluded to this at the beginning of the video. Don't use a semicolon with a coordinating conjunction. That's one of the FANBOYS. So for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so. If you need a refresher on your FANBOYS, check out our comma video.

But, you always want to use a semicolon with two sentences that can stand alone. So if you wouldn't start a sentence with and, If you wanna start a sentence with or, don't do that. So for example, wrong: I've always liked ice cream; and I can eat an entire carton in one sitting. This would need to be a comma to be correct.

Let's take a look at a test example. Given the nature of her job, Sara was left with little time to socialize, in other words, she rarely went out with friends. So we need to fix the punctuation in the sentence, we have some different options for comma, different options for semi colon, so first of all, let's, let's take a look at this first bit of punctuation here.

We're trying to decide if this should be a comma or a semicolon. So, let me give you a minute to take a look and see if the first part and the last part, or what comes before and after this comma, can stand alone as sentences. Okay, if you said that they can, then you are right.

That means we need a semicolon here, or we need a comma and a conjunction, but that's not one of our answer choices. So we can eliminate A, because that's what's called the comma splice. It's two independent clauses not correctly connected together. And, we can eliminate D, because that just kinda runs everything together. So, now let's take a look at B and C.

Oops, C has a semicolon with a conjunction, and so, that would be wrong, as well, too. So our answer is B. Given the nature of her job, Sarah is left with little time to socialize, semicolon. In other words, she rarely went out with friends. Those are two very closely related sentences, and we wanna join them together with a very sophisticated punctuation mark, which is why I like using it so much, the semicolon.

Show Transcript

Next Lesson


Punctuation