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3. A Semicolon and a Comma

A semicolon (rather than a comma) may be needed to separate independent clauses if there are commas within the clauses.

In the seventeenth century, the era of such distinguished prose writers as Sir Thomas Browne, John Donne, and Jeremy Taylor, the balanced compound sentence using commas and semicolons reached a high degree of perfection and popularity; but the tendency of many writers today is to use a fast-moving style with shorter sentences and fewer commas and semicolons.

Use a semicolon between items in a series if the items contain commas or long elements.

The three top seniors in this year’s class have the following four-year averages: Marvin Adams, 94.8; Ruth Ann Cummins, 93.6; and Joan Dorf, 92.8.

Yesterday was really busy. I met with my staff in the morning; I gave a speech at the club at lunchtime; and I was interviewed on TV for the Sunday evening news.


Use commas and semicolons in the following sentences:

  1. Though he could not usually distinguish fish flesh and fowl his taste buds were to put it charitably underdeveloped and he often annoyed his gourmet friend Peter who was the editor of Fine Foods magazine by ordering a hamburger in a fancy restaurant.

  2. Watching stupid sentimental dull soap operas eating junk food like French fries cheeseburgers and milkshakes and just doing nothing are my favorite vices.

  3. The wheelhouse is like a video arcade: equipment bleeps and pings radar fingers circle endlessly the printout information matching chatters away to itself.

  4. Almost half the club will be playing in the doubles tournament: six women including myself Peter Bates and John Wade the twins and of course the team captain with his partner.

  5. While working at the hospital she was overworked exploited and constantly criticized at the same time as being underpaid undervalued and taken for granted.

  6. When you come to one of our theatre workshops you can expect a whole rainbow of activities: music and singing and circus skills including juggling vegetarian cooking mime and acrobatics improvisations and above all a warm group experience.


Insert semicolon as needed in each of the following sentences.

  1. A President’s power over the bureaucracy depends, in part, on respect born of fear during the first term it depends, in part, of the idea that a President may run again. (George Will)

  2. At the arterial end of a capillary, blood pressure is greater than osmotic pressure therefore, water leaves the capillary along with oxygen and nutrients that diffuse from the capillary. (Sylvia Mader)

  3. Women’s rights is not only an abstraction, a cause it is also a personal affair. (Tony Morrison)

  4. We cannot establish instant security we can only build it step by step. (Margaret Mead)

  5. To take off a uniform is usually a relief, just as it is a relief to abandon official speech sometimes it is also a sign of defiance. (Alison Lurie)

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