AskDefine | Define semicolon

Dictionary Definition

semicolon n : a punctuation mark (`;') used to connect independent clauses; indicates a closer relation than does a period

User Contributed Dictionary


Alternative spellings


  1. The character ; used as a punctuation mark indicating a pause longer than the comma and shorter than a period/full stop.
  2. The character ; used in various ways in programming languages (for example, to mark the end of a statement in C).

Related terms


punctuation mark indicating a pause longer than the comma
  • Czech: středník
  • Finnish: puolipiste
  • French: point-virgule
  • German: Strichpunkt, Semikolon
  • Greek: άνω τελεία (áno teleía), ερωτηματικό (erotimatikó)
  • Polish: średnik
  • Romanian: punct şi virgulă
  • Russian: точка с запятой
  • Slovene: podpičje
  • Spanish: punto y coma
The character ; used in various ways in programming languages
  • German: Semikolon
  • Polish: średnik
  • Romanian: punct şi virgulă
  • Russian: точка с запятой
  • Slovene: podpičje
  • Spanish: punto y coma
  • Swedish: semikolon

Extensive Definition

A semicolon (  ;  ) is a punctuation mark. The Italian printer Aldus Manutius the Elder established the practice of using the mark to separate words opposed in meaning and to mark off interdependent statements. The earliest general use of the semicolon in English was in 1591. Ben Jonson was the first notable writer from England to use them systematically.

English usage

In English, the semicolon has two main purposes:
  1. It binds two sentences more closely than they would be if separated by a full stop/period. It often replaces a conjunction such as and or but. Writers might consider this appropriate where they are trying to indicate a close relationship between two sentences, or a 'run-on' in meaning from one to the next; they might not want the connection to be broken by the abrupt use of a period.
  2. It is used as a stronger division than a comma to make meaning clear in a sentence where commas are being used for other purposes. A common example of this use is to separate the items of a list when some of the items themselves contain commas.
There are several cases where semicolons may be used:
  1. Use a semicolon between closely related independent clauses not joined by a coordinating conjunction: "I went to the pool; I was informed that it was closed due to scheduled maintenance."
  2. Use a semicolon between independent clauses linked with a transitional phrase or conjunctive adverb: "I like to eat cows; however, they don't like to be eaten by me."
  3. Use a semicolon between items in a series containing internal punctuation: "There are several Waffle Houses in Atlanta, Georgia; Greenville, South Carolina; Gainesville, Florida; and Mobile, Alabama."
  4. A semicolon can be used to separate independent clauses that are joined by coordinating conjunctions when the clauses have internal commas that might lead to misreading: "After the game, I won a red and blue beanie baby, four hundred thousand edible ingots, and a certificate of excellence; but when the storm came, I lost it all in a torrent of sleet, snow, and profanity."
Semicolons are always followed by a lower case letter, unless that letter begins a proper noun. Semicolons have no spaces before, but one or two spaces after when used in a document.


  1. I am not alone; my wife came back to me.
  2. I traveled to Cambridge, England; Tijuana, Mexico; and Paris, France.
  3. Lisa scored 70 points; Marcia, 60; and Sam, 40.
(The semicolons in the second sentence and the second semicolon in sentence 3 are acting as serial commas.)

Other languages

In Greek and Church Slavonic, a semicolon indicates a question, similar to a Latin question mark. To indicate a major pause or separate sections each of which includes commas (the purposes served by semicolon in English), Greek uses an interpunct ( · ) or, actually, an ano teleia ( · ).
Με συγχωρείτε· πού είναι οι τουαλέτες; (Excuse me; where are the toilets?)

Computing usage

In computer programming, the semicolon is often used to separate multiple statements (for example, Pascal, SQL and Perl). In other languages, semicolons are required after every statement (such as in PHP, Java, ActionScript (optional in ActionScript 3), Lingo Script and the C family). Other languages (for instance, some assembly languages and LISP dialects) use semicolons to mark the beginning of comments.
In computer systems, the semicolon is represented by Unicode and ASCII character 59 or 0x3B. The EBCDIC semicolon character is 94 or 0x5E.
The semicolon is often used to separate elements of a string of text. For example, multiple e-mail addresses in the "To" field in some e-mail clients have to be delimited by a semicolon.
In Microsoft Excel, the semicolon is used as a list separator, especially in cases where the decimal separator is a comma.
  • 0,32; 3,14; 4,50 (instead of 0.32, 3.14, 4.50)
  • In c++ --> int x; x=1; cout << x << endl;


In the argument list of a mathematical function f(x_1, x_2, \dots; a_1, a_2, \dots), a semicolon may be used to separate variables and parameters.
In differential geometry, a semicolon preceding an index is used to indicate the covariant derivative of a function with respect to the coordinate associated with that index.


  • Hacker, Diana (2002). The Bedford Handbook (6th ed.). Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's ISBN 0-312-41281-9.

External links

semicolon in Catalan: Punt i coma
semicolon in Czech: Středník
semicolon in Danish: Semikolon
semicolon in German: Semikolon
semicolon in Spanish: Punto y coma
semicolon in Esperanto: Punktokomo
semicolon in Basque: Puntu eta koma
semicolon in French: Point-virgule
semicolon in Croatian: Točka sa zarezom
semicolon in Italian: Punto e virgola
semicolon in Hebrew: נקודה ופסיק
semicolon in Kazakh: Нүктелі үтір
semicolon in Hungarian: Pontosvessző
semicolon in Dutch: Puntkomma
semicolon in Japanese: セミコロン
semicolon in Norwegian: Semikolon
semicolon in Low German: Streekpunkt
semicolon in Polish: Średnik
semicolon in Portuguese: Ponto-e-vírgula
semicolon in Romanian: Punct şi virgulă
semicolon in Russian: Точка с запятой
semicolon in Slovak: Bodkočiarka
semicolon in Slovenian: Podpičje
semicolon in Serbo-Croatian: Točka sa zarezom
semicolon in Finnish: Puolipiste
semicolon in Swedish: Semikolon
semicolon in Thai: อัฒภาค
semicolon in Turkish: Noktalı virgül
semicolon in Chinese: 分號
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