The semicolon is a feared form of English language punctuation; I think all the fears are misplaced. Semicolons are used when a comma isn’t enough, and a period is just a bit too much.
When Do You Use a Semicolon?
The most frequent use for a semicolon is to join 2 independent clauses that have related thoughts, as I did aboveJ You would use it when you aren’t using the words, ‘like’, ‘and’, ‘but’…to join the clauses. If you DO us a conjunction then you would use a comma.
Well, then why not use a conjunction and a comma ALL the time?
Because semicolon usage in a sentence lends more weight to each of the independent clauses while still allowing the thoughts to flow together.
Punctuation in your writing is the musical timing of your thoughts. Think of how powerful a period is when used to express a thought like, ‘No. No. No.’ It’s staccato, decisive, strong, like 3 shots meant to hit the target. On the other hand, ‘No, no, no.’ is a bit of a panicked tiptoe by comparison. Semicolons produce their own music in your sentences. By removing the conjunction or linking word between the 2 independent clauses, each clause has a bit more flavor.
You can sense the arched brow in the 2nd clause of this quote.
When Hemingway killed himself he put a period at the end of his life; old age is more like a semicolon.
Or the lean forward to ensure the point is made in this quote.
The semicolon is the enemy of action; it is the agent of reflection and meditation.
1943 New York Times Editorial
You also use a semicolon when the independent clauses are connected by conjunctive adverbs (however, furthermore…), or transitional phrases (in spite of, for example, namely…).
We love the city of Miami, and its people; however, the summer weather is a killer!
Ice cream flavor names have become so creative; as a matter of fact, my new favorite is ‘Fossil Fuel’.
AND, most confusingly, you use a semicolon to join independent clauses that are joined by coordinating conjunctions IF the clauses are long, and ALREADY punctuated with commas.
Some students keep notes in class on their computer, tablet, or simply record lectures with their phone; and others, for different reasons, opt to write notes longhand.
Finally, semicolons are used between items in a list or series where ANY of the items contain a comma.
Here are the itinerary stops: London, England; Paris, France; and Florida.
Sure, semicolon usage is a hotly debated topic among writers, and maybe your own writing style isn’t semicolon friendly, but love it or loathe it the semicolon does have its place—and you should know exactly where that place is.