Using semicolons accurately

Home learning focus

To use semicolons accurately in your writing.

This lesson includes:

  • two videos on how to use semicolons and recapping the difference between colons and semicolons
  • three activities

Learn

The semicolon can help you join closely connected ideas in a sentence. It can also be used to break up a list that contains longer phrases. Watch this short clip to find out how to use semicolons.

Learn how to use a semicolon correctly to connect ideas or break up a list.

Joining closely connected ideas

When using a semicolon to join closely connected ideas, the sections must be independent and complete sentences, but closely linked in some way:

Sandip spent three hours in the library; he couldn’t find the book he wanted.

A semicolon is often used to replace a coordinating conjunction like ‘and’ or ‘but’. The sentence about Sandip could have been written like this:

Sandip spent three hours in the library but he couldn’t find the book he wanted.

This way of using a semicolon helps connect major and subordinate clauses. It can add a level of complexity to your writing.

Watch the following clip to quickly recap the difference between colons and semicolons.

Recap the difference between a colon and a semicolon.

Writing a list using semicolons

Semicolons can also be used when writing a list. In most lists, it’s enough to use commas to separate the items:

When I pack for school, I make sure I have my pens, pencils, lunch box, PE kit and bus money.

However, if the list is more complicated semicolons may be needed to make the list clear for the reader:

When I pack for school, I make sure I have my calculator, compasses and ruler for maths and science lessons; drawing pencils, with coloured pastels, for art; shin pads, goalie gloves and boots for football; and my bus money.

The semicolons are added to show the reader which objects are grouped together and make the list clearer.

Practise

Activity 1

Check your understanding. Complete this quiz on how to use semicolons in your writing.

Activity 2

Write a letter or email to someone, for example, a friend or a relative.

You should base this letter on one of the following three topics:

  • a typical day at your school.
  • describing an activity you love to do.
  • telling them about a TV show or film you have watched.

In your letter, your goal is to make use of semicolons. Use them in a list and also to connect two ideas together.

Top tip
You should aim to give clear and relevant information. Follow the layout of a letter:

  • write an introduction summarising why you are writing
  • then 3-4 paragraphs that each have a different point/focus
  • finally conclude and sign off the letter

Example
In a letter to a friend telling them about a film you really enjoy, you could use semicolons in a list as follows:

When I watched the film I really enjoyed: the detailed setting of the fight scene; the varied types of characters that are seen; the tension and excitement created by the music; and the detailed choreography seen when they fight.

Activity 3

Complete these short exercises from Twinkl to see what you've learnt about how to use a semicolon.

You can print this activity sheet or write your answers on a piece of paper.

Spagtacular starters - semicolons activity sheet
document

Where next?

In this lesson you have learnt how to use semicolons accurately.

There are other useful Bitesize articles to help you with your writing and grammatical skills.

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