Hated by some, revered by others: the semi-colon is the marmite of punctuation. Use wisely!



  • Kurt Vonnegut – “transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing.”
  • US, Donald Barthelme – “ugly as a tick on a dog’s belly…. We Yanks distrust nuance and complexity”.
  • “Hemingway, Chandler and Stephen King”, said McIntyre, “wouldn’t be seen dead in a ditch with a semi-colon (though Truman Capote might). Real men, goes the unwritten rule of American punctuation, don’t use semi-colons.”


  • John Irving declared himself an unrepentant fan of semi-colons.
  • Philip Hensher of the Independent defended the semi-colon as “a cherished tool, elegant and rational.”
  • And blogger, Kathy Schenck, maintained she still liked the semi-colon. “It’s like a slur in music, leading you to the next thought without making you stop to rest.”

What is a semi-colon?

Stronger than a comma, but not as final as a full stop.

“The semicolon or semicolon (;) is a punctuation mark that separates major sentence elements. A semicolon can be used between two closely related independent clauses, provided they are not already joined by a coordinating conjunction (and, but etc).”


DO – use a semi-colon when two sentences are so closely related that a full stop would be too strong. Do use semicolons for complicated lists.


DON’T – use semi-colon with ‘and or ‘but’ (except in a list). For example: Jenny likes football, but Simon prefers hockey. Or Jenny likes football; Kevin prefers hockey.





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