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Semi-Colons

What is a semi-colon?

A semi-colon is a piece of punctuation which links two independent clauses and demonstrates to the reader that the two clauses are closely linked. Semi-colons are also used to separate items in a list which has been introduced with a colon. Semi-colons help authors to improve the clarity or flow of their sentences and to change the tone or pace of their writing.

Semi-colons should not be confused with colons. They are formed differently and serve different purposes within a sentence.

Semi-colon icon

A semi-colon is constructed by drawing a full stop on top of a comma.

Purpose 1: to link two independent clauses.

My favourite season had always been Winter; Joel preferred Summer.

Purpose 2: to separate items in a list following a colon.

His desk was a mess: stacks of books and papers were piled high; pens were scattered around; half-drunk cups of cold tea and half-eaten apple cores were pushed over to one side; and scribbled post-it notes covered the computer.

What is a colon?

A colon is a piece of punctuation used to introduce a list or to link an independent clause to a dependent clause containing an example or explanation.

colon icon

A colon is constructed by drawing two full stops stacked on top of each other.

Purpose 1: to use a colon to link an independent clause to a dependent clause containing an example or explanation.

I love watching films: comedies in partcular.

 

Purpose 2: to use a semi-colon to separate items in a list following a colon.

His desk was a mess: stacks of books and papers were piled high; pens were scattered around; half-drunk cups of cold tea and half-eaten apple cores were pushed over to one side; and scribbled post-it notes covered the computer.


When and how to use semi-colons

Semi-colons can be used to signal that two independent clauses are closely related in a way that a co-ordinating conjunction or a full stop does not. They can also be used to separate items in a list following a colon to ensure that the information is clear to the reader.

To help children understand when and how to use a semi-colon, be sure to offer plenty of modelled examples. Start by providing children with independant clauses that are separated by a full stop or linked with a co-ordinating conjunction and ask children to replace the existing punctuation with a semi-colon.

Then, provide children with two related independent clauses without any punctuation and ask children to identify where they need to add a semi-colon. Scrambled sentences also offer a great way to help children get to grips with when and where to use semi-colons in a sentence.

Another way to practise semi-colon use is to ask children to pair up. One child can write the first independent clause and add the semi-colon, the second child must add a second related, independent clause. These can be shared with the class to unpick whether the example is accurate and what impact the punctuation has on the reader.

Once children have mastered these activities, begin to embed examples within larger texts or provide examples where children must select the correct punctuation from a range of options. Can children spot all the places where a semi-colon is needed with a paragraph? Can children spot where a semi-colon is need rather than a colon or a full stop?

Why not use our FREE Semi-Colon Sentences activity to help your children understand where and when to how a semi-colon?


Why use a semi-colon?

Semi-colons are a useful tool for any author. They can be used to link clauses in order to help the reader see a connection or make a comparison and they can help the author to convey a change in pace or tone. Semi-colons can also break up complex information, so that the text can be more easily read and understood by the reader.

Example 1: to replace a co-ordinating conjunction

My favourite season has always been Winter but Joel preferred Summer.

My favourite season has always been Winter; Joel preferred Summer

Impact: here the semi-colon helps the reader compare the clauses and changes the tone for the reader.

Example 2: to replace a co-ordinating conjunction

 The carriage ground to a halt and the door opened.

The carriage ground to a halt; the door opened.

Impact: here the semi-colon quickens the pace and increases the tension.

Example 3: to replace a full stop

The team performed brilliant. Every player gave their all.

The team performed brilliant; every player gave their all.

Impact: here the semi-colon signals to the reader that the second clause continues the idea or theme of the first.

Example 4: separating items in a list

 The children need to bring with them: a sleeping bag, pillow and pyjamas; day-time clothing suitable for wet or cold weather; a cup, bowl, plate, spoon, fork and knife; and plenty of drinks and snacks.

Impact: here the semi-colon helps reader to understand longer phrases in a list and provides clarity where commas are also used.


Common mistakes when using semi-colons

Three common mistakes that children make when learning how to use semi-colons are:

  1. incorrectly using a colon or a comma to seperate independent clauses instead of a semi-colon;
  2. using a capital letter to start their second clause following the semi-colon; and,
  3. forming semi-colons which are not consistent with the size of their handwriting.

Plan to explicitly teach and address these points.

  • Give children plenty of opportunity to form semi-colons.
  • Ask children to spot and correct the errors in sentences (which include rogue capital letters following semi-colons).
  • Offer children a variety of multi-clause sentences without punctuation and ask them to identify and add the correct punctuation marks.

To help your children fully embed their understanding of more advanced punctuation, why not ask them to create a table highlighting the differences between colons and semi-colons.

You can also download our FREE UKS2 Punctuation Activities designed to support children make their own punctuation reference poster, which can be kept in the front of their English books or displayed on your English working wall.


Teaching progression for semi-colons

Identifying and using semi-colons is a Year 6 English objective.

Before introducing children to semi-colons, ensure that they have a solid understanding of what independent and dependent clauses are and of the relationship between them. They should also know what a colon is and how to use it. Colons tend to be easier for children to understand, and they are also needed in sentences which introduce lists, separated by semi-colons - so it makes sense for these to be pre-taught.  

Children also need to be able to confidently understand a semi colon's purpose, identify the graphic representation and be able to form a semi-colon before they apply this punctuation in their independent writing. Use the ideas and resources in this article to support your children's learning.

Download our Shackleton's Journey Letter Writing English Scheme of work, specifically designed to offer children the opportunity to demonstrate their application of advanced punctuation.

 

LESSON PACK Shackleton's Journey Letter Writing


FREE Semi-colon Sentences


FREE UKS2 Punctuation Activities