Semicolons between Two Full Sentences
Updated: May 11, 2021
Connect two independent clauses with a semicolon to show they are closely related.
The Short Story
Use a semicolon between two full sentences.
Ex: The hand moved; the pen wrote.
A semicolon (;) is literally a period (.) and a comma (,) combined.
That means the semicolon functions as both punctuation marks. When we use semicolons, we tell readers that we know we have finished a complete sentence, but we actually have more to say.
One of the many ways to use a semicolon is between two full sentences. To be more technical, when a semicolon connects two full sentences, they actually turn into two independent clauses. This is the most common use of the semicolon.
This also comes with two guidelines:
Guideline #1 The independent clauses need to be related.
Technically, we could put a semicolon in between any two independent clauses, but it works much better if the independent clauses are related to each other.
Ex: Clara swam down the river; Noah ran along it.
These independent clauses are closely related because they both mention the river and what the subject is doing in relation to the river.
Let’s look at a not-so-good example.
Ex: The young girl chased the red balloon; the sky is blue.
These independent clauses don’t really have anything to do with each other. We would need a lot more context for it to make sense to keep the semicolon here. In this instance, it is better to separate these independent clauses with a period.
Guideline #2 Keep the independent clauses short.
Of course, we can always use a semicolon in between any two independent clauses, no matter their lengths. But keeping them short is always better. It will be easier for readers to process and will tie the independent clauses closer together.
Ex: Our local Pizza Hut, which has been in business for over 20 years, has really good deals on Tuesdays, so I often go there; our local Papa John’s, according to my friend, also has pretty good deals, but the coupons and sales are a lot harder to find in the ads, and I think the deals are on Fridays instead.
These independent clauses are obviously closely related because they compare two pizza chains and their deals. But these independent clauses are long, which makes it harder for a reader to get through both of them. It would be better if they were separated by a period instead.
Let’s look at a better example:
Ex: Pizza Hut has deals on Tuesdays; Papa John’s has them on Friday.
These independent clauses are shorter. They are easier to get through and seem more closely related than the longer independent clauses that we just read.
“But brand-new custom cars have nothing on used classics; the recent sale of a 1963 Ferrari GTO for $70 million is supposedly the highest price ever paid for a car.”
(Daniel, Alex. “175 Random Facts So Interesting You'll Say, ‘OMG!’” Bestlife. Published March 19, 2021. https://bestlifeonline.com/random-fun-facts/.)
These are two independent clauses. (Though there is some debate about independent clauses and the word “but.” But that’s a conversation for another time.) These independent clauses are definitely related too because they both are giving facts about cars.
“The clown anemonefish’s eyes are grayish orange and appear to be larger than they actually are; the orange clownfish has a bright orange iris, which has the effect of making the eyes look smaller.”
(Bradford, Alina. “Facts about Clownfish.” Live Science. Published July 13, 2016. https://www.livescience.com/55399-clownfish.html.)
Are these independent clauses related? Yep. Are they short? Relatively, yes. The reader can get through the independent clauses easily. The semicolon works well here.
“By 1934, the world has changed; millions are out of work and drought has devastated the Great Plains.”
(Bookshop.org. “The Four Winds.” Accessed April 7, 2021. https://bookshop.org/books/the-four-winds-9781643588230/9781250178602.)
These independent clauses are related; one telling that the world is changed, and the other explaining how. This is also a good example of showing how to link short independent clauses with a semicolon.