The Semicolon: Not a Fancy Comma
It isn't bold like the exclamation mark or straightforward like the period, but the semicolon is more than just the eyes of your smiley.
It's a subtle form of punctuation, but it does not have to be difficult. The main purpose of a semicolon is to join two complete and similar sentences. When two thoughts are tied strongly to one another, you may find a period too great a separation. Using a semicolon visibly increases the link between these thoughts.
Our rule with semicolons then becomes as follows: If you can use a period, you can use a semicolon.
This does not mean that you should abolish periods from your work. Using a semicolon is like sprinkling spices on a dish; you want the spices to enhance the flavor, not dominate the dish. Here are a few examples:
"This coffee maker doesn't just make coffee; it also greets you personally."
"A zombie eats brains; a shotgun fixes that."
"I like the thought of an underwater bear; however, I wouldn't want to meet one."
"There were four survivors on this island; only two remain."
Don't use a semicolon with a coordinating conjunction. If you already have one of the FANBOYS linking your thoughts, use a comma instead. For example:
"There were four survivors on this island, but only two remain."
Here are a few instances where you would not want to use a semicolon.
"Zombies eat brains; the history of zombies predates the dawn of time because everyone knows that zombies are night creatures, and darkness existed before light."
These two ideas are only vaguely related. Use a period to show a greater sense of separation.
"Bears are mentioned in 'The Wizard of Oz'; the blue whale is over 100 feet in length."
Unless you're encountering one of my fabulous underwater bears, these two ideas are completely unrelated. Grouping them as one thought would be silly.
"Four of us washed ashore a small island; cannibalism is also called anthropophagy."
While certainly ominous, you should probably save that semicolon for a more obvious link.
There are other uses for a semicolon, such as clarifying a series. Look for rules on that and more in future posts.