Semicolons When Two Full Sentences Are Connected by Transition Words
Updated: May 11, 2021
Let your readers know what is coming next with a semicolon and words like “however” and “that is.”
The Short Story
Use a semicolon when two sentences are connected by a transition word.
Ex: She didn’t mind waiting in the car; besides, she had her book.
Semicolons are great to use when we have written a complete sentence but want to add more to our thought. Semicolons let readers know there is more coming.
For example, we can use semicolons to connect two full sentences.
Ex: The elves made shoes of many shapes and sizes; they often made them at night while the children were sleeping.
Sometimes when we link two sentences together, it is helpful to use transition words.
There are a lot of transition words in English. Most of them are adverbs: “accordingly,” “besides,” “hence,” “indeed,” “therefore,” and “thus.” And some are expressions: “for example,” “namely,” and “that is.” And there are a lot more transition words that we didn’t list here.
Transition words let the reader know how the first sentence is connected to the second sentence.
Here are some ways two sentences could be connected:
Examples: “for example” and “namely”
Something being redefined: “that is”
An effect of a cause: “accordingly,” “thus,” “therefore,” and “hence”
Something being emphasized: “indeed”
Another point: “besides” and “however”
When we connect two full sentences, we use a semicolon. And when we connect two sentences with a transition word, the semicolon comes before the transition word. Usually, a comma comes after the transition word, but it doesn’t have to if the sentence is easy to understand without it. Personally—I like using the commas.
Ex: My little sister ate many berries; that is, she gobbled up too many blueberries.
Ex: When Lily fell on the blacktop, she scraped her knees; hence, the school nurse gave her a Band-Aid.
Ex: Lavender Lux was a great sorceress; indeed, she was the greatest in all the Willow Woods.
“‘With the increase of cyberattacks occurring, organizations continue to spend more money on security; however, they often spend it in the wrong areas,’ says Dr. Eric Cole, founder and CEO at Secure Anchor, and one of the nation’s top cybersecurity experts.”
(Morgan, Steve. “Global Cybersecurity Spending Predicted to Exceed $1 Trillion From 2017-2021” Cybercrime Magazine. Published June 10, 2019. https://cybersecurityventures.com/cybersecurity-market-report/.)
The transition word in this sentence is “however.” It is letting the reader know that what comes next is something that happens in spite of what they just read. In this case, despite spending more money on security, organizations are spending it in the wrong places. There is a semicolon before the transition word and a comma after it.
“Croaking frogs would drown the sounds of footsteps; even so, she lay on her porch bed listening.”
(Owens, Delia. Where the Crawdads Sing. New York: G. P. Putnam Sons, 2018.)
“Even so” is the transition phrase here. It lets readers know that what they will read next will happen regardless of the information they read before the semicolon. Even though the frogs were loud, she still lay on the porch. This example also shows a semicolon before the transition word and a comma after.
“According to family legend, the ladies—whose exact identities are unknown—were ‘born and married on the same day’ (that is, they shared the same birthday and wedding anniversary); as such they are often interpreted as having been twins, but again there is no concrete evidence of this.”
(Chan, Eleanor. “The ‘English’ cadence: reading an early modern musical trope.” Early Music (2021). https://doi.org/10.1093/em/caaa082.)
“As such” lets readers know that what they just read was a cause and what they will read next is a cause of that effect. Because the women were born and married on the same day, this caused the effect of people believing they were twins. Notice that this example does have a semicolon, but it doesn’t have a comma. But that is still correct because we don’t have to use a comma if the sentence flows smoothly without it.