Semicolon (;): how and when to use

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O semicolon (;) it is an important sign to understand the rhythm and intonation of the reading and to organize the ideas of the text, being an intermediate punctuation between the comma and the period. Therefore, it is used in specific cases, such as lists, very long periods already separated by commas and before adversative conjunctions.

Read too: Exclamation point — when to use it?

Semicolon summary

  • The semicolon (;) is a punctuation mark used to help set the pace of reading and the organization of ideas in a text.

  • It indicates a pause longer than that of the comma, but also the continuity of the utterance, being between the comma and the period.

  • It can also be used in the enumeration of items in a list or in a text written in topics.

  • It should not be confused with the colon sign, which establishes a relationship of explanation and presentation between utterances.

When is the semicolon used?

The semicolon is a punctuation mark used to indicate pauses longer than the comma, but maintaining the continuity of the utterance (unlike the period). So, it's a

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sign that expresses an intermediate pause, something between the comma and the Score. There are some specific cases for using the semicolon, which we are going to discover now.

→ Separating items into lists

The semicolon can be used to separate items in a numeric list. At the end of each item, a semicolon is placed to indicate that the item is finished, but the list continues. Look:

“Write down what is missing at home:

  • tomato;

  • banana;

  • milk;

  • rice."

→ Helping to organize long periods

Sometimes many phrases and clauses come together, forming a long sentence. In some of these cases, the semicolon may be a resource adopted to help pace the reading and organize the distribution of the text. So there is no confusion with the commas. Watch:

  • In my free time, I like to play, dance and draw.;my friend, to paint, play ball and sing; and the two of us, racing and reading.

  • My day started off fast, because I woke up late, had to have breakfast in a hurry and get ready in a hurry.; I still missed the bus and had to come by bike!

→ Preceding conjunctions

conjunctions are words that separate two clauses establishing, between them, a relation of ideas. Many adversative conjunctions (opposition of ideas) and conclusive (conclusion) can be preceded by a semicolon.

  • Being so hot, we decided to go for a walk; however, as soon as we left the house, clouds began to appear in the sky.

  • She excelled in sports such as football, volleyball, and handball.; therefore, his greatest passion was the subject of Physical Education.

Examples of sentences with semicolon

  • she was agitated; me, calmer.

  • Julia was anxious to finish the project and go home; however, there were still a few pages missing.

  • Lucas and Pedro will design the poster; Leticia and I are going to paint it;Bárbara and André will take the written part.

  • Don't know how to be hurt; It's all forgiveness and affection. (Machado de Assis)

See too: Dash — the punctuation mark that indicates direct speech

What are the differences between the semicolon and the colon?

The semicolon and colon are used to express a pause between two periods. Although, colons are used when the next utterance is a continuation of the first, often explaining it. In the case of the semicolon, the utterances are more independent of each other.

Understand this difference with the following examples:

  • Diego had a terrible secret: he was terrified of the dark, but he wouldn't admit it to anyone.

  • Diego's terrible secret was to be terrified of the dark.; however, he would not assume for anyone.

A colon is also used at the end of a statement that opens a list, whose items can be separated by semicolons.. See this excerpt from Chapter II of the Child and Adolescent Statute, observing how the colon ends a statement to open a list whose items are separated by semicolons:

“Art. 15. Children and adolescents have the right to freedom, respect and dignity as human persons in the process of development and as subjects of civil, human and social rights guaranteed in the Constitution and laws.

Art. 16. The right to liberty comprises the following aspects:

I - go, come and be in public places and community spaces, subject to legal restrictions;

II - opinion and expression;

III - religious belief and worship;

IV - play, practice sports and have fun;

V - participate in family and community life, without discrimination;

VI - participate in political life, in accordance with the law;

VII - seek refuge, help and guidance.”

What are the differences between the semicolon and the comma?

Like the semicolon, the comma also helps to set the pace of reading and the organization of ideas in the text. Although, the comma tends to indicate a brief pause, while the semicolon indicates a slightly longer pause.

Furthermore, the semicolon is used in more specific contexts than the comma, which is used very often in texts.

See how the use of semicolons changes the structure and reading pace of the text:

  • I really want to go to the festival, meet this band and meet my friends, But I don't know if I'll have money...

  • I really want to go to the festival, meet this band, find my friends; although, I don't know if I'll have the money for it...

Semicolon in the Spelling Agreement

The semicolon usage rules haven't changed in the spelling agreement established in 2009, but what has changed is its name: before the agreement, it was written “semicolon”, with a hyphen; however, now, it is written without a hyphen: semicolon.

Solved exercises on semicolon

question 1

The semicolon can be used in the following contexts, except:

A) in lists separated by topics.

B) in some cases of long periods that already have commas.

C) before adversative conjunctions.

D) to indicate brief pauses in the utterance.


Alternative D

The semicolon is not used to indicate short pauses in the utterance, as its use indicates longer pauses.

question 2

Which alternative presents a proper use of the semicolon?

A) I tried to explain; because you didn't know.

B) I like to play rope and hopscotch; my sister prefers shuttlecock and soccer.

C) We did so much today; we finished the lesson, played and went out to eat.

D) We missed you; Glad you came!


Alternative B

In alternative A, a comma should be used; in alternative C, a colon should be used; and in alternative D, an exclamation point should be used.
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