Punctuation. Semicolons

    The content of these guidelines is taken from the third edition of the Vives University Network’s Interuniversity Style Guide for Writing Institutional Texts, an interuniversity project in which the UPC participates with the support of the Secretariat for Universities and Research of the Government of Catalonia.


      Main functions of semicolons

      • The semicolon is mainly used to join two complete sentences in a single sentence when (a) the two sentences are thought to be too closely related to be separated by a full stop and (b) there is no connecting word which would require a comma, such as and or but.

        The Governing Council adopted the measure; the Student Council rejected it.


      Alternatives to the semicolon: full stop

      • A semicolon can generally be replaced by a full stop.

        The Governing Council agreed to the deficit plan. The Student Council rejected it.

      • However, the semicolon suggests that the two smaller sentences are more closely related than two consecutive sentences usually are.


      Alternatives to the semicolon: a connecting word

      • A semicolon can also be replaced by a suitable connecting word (and, or, but, while, yet) with a joining comma.

        The Governing Council agreed to the deficit plan, yet the Student Council rejected it.

      • However, certain connecting words must be preceded by a semicolon or full stop. The most common among these are consequently, hence, however, meanwhile, nevertheless, therefore and thus.

        The two sides have refused to negotiate; consequently, the deficit plan has been suspended.


      Using semicolons in exceptional circumstances: long or grammatically complex lists

      • Use semicolons to separate items in long or complex lists, or to make these items more conspicuous than they would be with commas. 

        The membership of the committee was as follows: PDI, 4; PAS, 5; students, 3.