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I challenge the statement that Manutous invented the semicolon. The ";" mark was used as a question mark in ancient Greek, where a raised dot served the semicolon function and the paired dots ":" we know as a colon was used as a colon.

Aldus MAY have "invented" the use of this mark in Italian printing, but the mark was used centuries earlier.

AIUI, Aldus Manutius invented the semicolon we use now. The ancient Greek question mark looks the same, but is used for something completely different. Gwalla | Talk 06:25, 25 Jul 2004 (UTC)

Comparing the Semicolon with the Im Dash[edit]

It seems to me that the em dash can be used in a similar manner to the Semicolon, but that the em dash is generally closer to being used like a comma, while a semicolon is closer to a period. Am I correct in this belief? Should this article address this subject?

Thanks, --Pordaria 18:25, 11 December 2006 (UTC)

Em dash, commas and parentheses may be used interchangably to set-off a separate (severable) clause. The only difference is their relative weights and how distinct the enclosed phrase is. Unfortunately, there is no clear convention on ordering other than comma being the lowest of three i.e; the text is more integrated/essential to the sentence. At least that's what I was able to determine when I recently had this same question. --Belg4mit 22:41, 8 November 2007 (UTC)


Is there a proper way to use a semicolon to join two sentences if the first is an interrogative? ie, "Can you clarify this for me; I need to take it to the boss"

would proper use avoid this situation? or could it be terminated with a question mark/period? --CGW 19:41, 31 May 2005 (UTC)

  • Thats a good question; I'm afraid I have no answer for you, but you can email it to writelab<at>uwf(dot)edu, and they will answer it in a day or so.--Smallwhitelight 20:39, 2 Jun 2005 (UTC)

Justify this[edit]

The semicolon is frequently considered to be the greatest of the punctuation marks, primarily due to its supposed ability to encompass all other punctuation in one simple yet elegant symbol.

I've removed it because:

  • 99% of the population don't even know what a semi-colon is.
  • It does not encompass all other punctuation - it does not perform the role of a question mark or exclamation mark.
  • If we were having a punctuation beauty contest, I'd go for a full stop as about the only bit of punctuation that gets used properly most of the time and people understand ;)

I don't think this sentence adds anything to the article. Spenny 07:46, 18 October 2005 (UTC)

On your second point, I think that this is an unsettled question. An earlier post in this discussion page askes this, but there has been no satisfactory response.--Smallwhitelight 21:08, 17 February 2006 (UTC)

I would just like to proclaim my love for the semicolon! Wright123 22:49, 13 March 2006 (UTC)

I, too, love the semicolon. It's my favourite punctuation mark by far; simply enchanting... Finnif 19:04, 30 March 2006 (UTC)

Quite, she's a beauty. However, Spenny's deletion is most justified. I do love the cheeky use of a semicolon in the first paragraph; inspired stuff! Spuddddddd 13:42, 26 March 2007 (UTC)

I've always referred to it as the Super Comma. You can generally replace commas between two statements with a semicolon, and it eats the conjuction you'd need otherwise. --Kingoomieiii ♣ Talk 15:28, 18 March 2009 (UTC)

Semicolon Dividing Statements on the Same Line ?[edit]

I seem to recall in my early days of Basic there was a syntax for doing this, but I don't think it is a true statement for Pascal and JavaScript. These both have the principle of tokens separated by white space (which can include line endings) which then combine to make a statement. The difference between Pascal and say C is that in C a statement is always ended with a semi-colon whereas compound statements in Pascal are divided by a semi-colon and the final statement does not need a semi-colon (e.g. a statement before an end). Don't know enough about JavaScript to know whether the comment is correct but I suspect it is not.

Greek example[edit]

Do we really need the greek example? It seems a) out of place on the english wikipedia, and b) could confuse some english-learners, as we normally put the semicolon mid-way (or so) in a sentence, whereas the greek put it all the way at the end, (in that example anyway).. I don't feel bold enough to remove it, so feel free to remove it :).. Just my two cents.. oh and yes, I know i'm on a wikibreak :P --Deon555talkReview 06:48, 17 September 2006 (UTC)

Wht not keeping it? It doubles as both an example of the use of the "proper" semicolor (middle dot) in that language, plus shows how the "english" semicolon is used as a question mark. The example is a bit poor, I admit (a comma would be better instead of a semicolor/middle dot in this case) but still there should still be some reference to the Greek usage...or at least a better example. EpiVictor 14:30, 17 September 2006 (UTC)
Also not forgetting that people who are new to English are usually found more on, the learners here are either fairly proficient or do interwiki links :-) Michael Billington (talkcontribs) 23:10, 19 September 2006 (UTC)
I definately have to disagree. This page is about English grammar, not Greek. I personally do not see how the Greek example is in any way relevant to the examples. 18:10, 17 October 2006 (UTC)
Maybe keeping a reference to usage in Old Slavonic and Greek without an example would be OK? But then one would wonder why an example of this isn't present...or eliminating the references altogether? EpiVictor 20:21, 17 October 2006 (UTC)
Perhaps it would be something for a separate page, but the current semicolon page only refers to the English Language usage of it. it is a bit confusing as to the usage of the Greek semicolon in the example... Maybe instead it could be fleshed out and added as another section. 15:05, 18 October 2006 (UTC)
Well....a Middle dot article would be the perfect thing, then. Of course it would link back to semicolon...and offer a Greek example and an english back to square one :-D EpiVictor 19:32, 18 October 2006 (UTC)

The English Wikipedia is not about English - it is about everything, including the Greek language. It just happens to be written in English. -- Beland 02:58, 10 February 2007 (UTC)

Characters v. glyphs[edit]

The Greek question mark is indicated with a glyph very much like that use for the semi-colon, but these are not the same character. The semicolon is U+003B, and the Greek question mark is U+037E. This article may be rewritten to note the similarity of glyphs, but it is at present quite incorrect. —SlamDiego 02:37, 10 March 2007 (UTC)

I agree. I was just about to add basically the same comment. I think that in some fonts (supporting both characters) the glyphs are probably identical. However, I can give the example of Palatino Linotype, where character U+037E is rendered with a glyph where the lower portion looks less like a comma (i.e. like a spiral) than like a prime. It would be nice to check this on the Greek-language page about semicolons ...except there isn't one. (Suggesting that Greek-speakers don't themselves feel they use semicolons???)
Perhaps the article could mention that the semicolon has often been used to render the Greek 'erotimatiko' character, as they have similar glyphs (see [1]).
It's good to keep the info. on this Greek character, but the question is whether the detail belongs in this page or on a separate page.
Does anyone know if this is relevant to the historical use/development of the semicolon?
—DIV ( 06:58, 30 May 2007 (UTC))
In Greek the word is ερωτηματικο. However I now suspect that there is no Greek article purely because there are very few Greek articles altogether ...just 23,456 at last count (compared to 1,807,989 in English).
— DIV ( 07:55, 30 May 2007 (UTC))

(BTW, the punctus versus is U+F1EA.) —SlamDiego 02:47, 10 March 2007 (UTC)

Criticism of the Semicolon[edit]

I don't think this section belongs in the article. We're not talking about a theory or art, we're talking about a standard convention of english writing. Whether or not you prefer its use is a matter of taste, and faulting its use as some kind of pretentiousness promotes a kind of anti-intellectualism, assuming that people who make full use of the language conventions at their disposal are only trying to show off.

I would say remove the Kurt Vonnegut quote, and its tenuously quoted retort. Wikipedia shouldn't be discouraging people from using all of the punctionation at their disposal to produce good writing. Cbrislain 19:59, 8 December 2006 (UTC)

"It should be noted that excessive use of the semicolon is considered pretentious by many writers and readers in the English language; especially when the mark is employed to create lengthy, multisegmented sentences. To wit, a quote from Kurt Vonnegut: " not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites, standing for absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college."

An English professor faced with the above quote: "Perhaps, and using full stop punctuation just shows you've been to pre-school."[citation needed]"

I think the Vonnegut quote is relevant and should be included. The retort is unattributed, so it should probably not be included. I must say that I'm a heavy semicolon user, but after reading the Vonenegut quote elsewhere, I started to think about it. I began to look more carefully at texts by authors whom I admire for their clarity and style (names not relevant here), and was surprised by how little they use the semicolon! Perhaps there is something to the claims that the semicolon can be stuffy and academic. --Itub 13:54, 26 September 2007 (UTC)
I forgot to add: of course, the semicolon is a standard convention of English writing. However, its use can often be avoided by structuring and phrasing things differently. The writers I was referring to didn't violate any well-defined rule about the use of the semicolon; they just worked around it. --Itub 13:57, 26 September 2007 (UTC)


In a web browser's URL bar, a semicolon looks like: %3B.

I've removed the above: it does not stand on its own as a comment (I can type ; in the bar for example) and so should really be expanded on - but really it is just one special case of presenting ASCII encoding mentioned earlier. I could explain what a semicolon looks like in an IBM hex dump. This article is about semicolons not about the technicalities of implementing the Internet. Spenny 15:14, 26 April 2007 (UTC)


The numbered examples should correspond to the numbered usage cases preceding them. --Belg4mit 22:32, 8 November 2007 (UTC)

Once, I actually used a semi-colon in my writing for math class. The teacher gave me a good grade and congratulated me on my exellent usage of the exquisite punctuation mark. I suggest that you should also use semi-colons in your math class.

I loved the examples. Especially the Bioshock quote.----Anonymous 9:48, 27 October 2008

Haha, I too was pleasantly surprised by the Bioshock quote. Got a good grin out of me, even though I've only played the demo. =) (talk) 09:30, 2 November 2008 (UTC)

The Bioshock quote is quite nice but am I the only one who feels like it's out of place with the rest of the article? Especially since there are no other literary references. Zacqary Adam Green (talk) 19:01, 12 January 2009 (UTC)

Whoever wrote this article is quite awesome. The Assassin's Creed right next to the most famous Bioshock Quote. Genius. (talk) 05:38, 28 March 2012 (UTC)Anonymous


The introduction states that a semicolon indicates a long pause in speech. This is a deprecated principle in modern grammar, and as the first statement in the article serves to give an entirely spurious definition, contradicted later; this should be done away with.

The second section (English usage) then goes on to give two forms of usage. The second is more or less correct; the first understandable, but not quite right. It refers, for instance, to two sentences separated by a semicolon, which is a problematic idea in itself. These two statements, aside from being largely unsatisfactory in the usages they address, are also incomplete. Bewilderingly, they are followed almost immediately by a far more accurate, lucid, concise and complete list of the various usages. This renders the earlier definitions quite obsolete.

I will make the changes I allude to here. This ought to explain my motives --Che Gannarelli (talk) 22:16, 15 September 2008 (UTC)

Purpose of Flipped Semicolon[edit]

Does anyone know the purpose of the ؛ symbol? AlexGemeo (talk) 23:28, 1 December 2008 (UTC)

Use in lists[edit]

How common is it to use the semicolon to separate items in a list (if those items contain commas)? I was quite surprised to see this use mentioned in the article. Several style guides I consulted failed to mention this usage (including WP:STYLE), although I did manage to find one that did condone it. Most style guides mention only the usage to connect independent clauses. The only online reference listed in the article's references that supports this usage is a blog entry. Julesd 20:58, 3 December 2008 (UTC)

Fowler's supports it by implication and example:
"To which it should be added that the semicolon is a useful device for separating a list of items set out in consecutive (as opposed to columnar) form: Those present at the conference included Professor R. H. Robins, School of Oriental and African Studies; Dr M. K. C. MacMahon, University of Glasgow; Dr Rod McConchie, University of Helsinki; and Dr Brigitte Nerlich, University of Nottingham."
but without explicitly saying containing commas. --catslash (talk) 21:51, 3 December 2008 (UTC)
Among many, many other handbooks I've read over the years, Diana Hacker's Bedford Handbook gives this rule. At one point it was listed in the references. I added it there 3 or 4 years ago when I first listed the rules for semicolon use on this page. Sadly, I am currently away from home for a few days, or I would offer the text from Bedford.-- (talk) 19:46, 4 May 2009 (UTC)

""Your sister did not get high marks; because she didn't study sincerely"[edit]

I think this example quote is disingenuous because women in most Arabic-speaking countries aren't allowed to go to school, or even leave the house without a man. I suggest the example should read "Example: "Your brother did not get high marks; because he didn't study sincerely". Then it would be somewhat more accurate. (talk) 11:55, 17 July 2009 (UTC)

This is both besides the point and false. Egypt, the most populous Arabic-speaking country and with relatively low female literacy, has 92% participation in primary schools (both sexes) [2]. Arab countries don't do well on women's rights, but there are no Arab countries where it is normal for women to need a male escort outside the house: it is precisely male-female contact that is considered suspect! Cf. Women's rights in Saudi Arabia#Sex segregation. — Charles Stewart (talk) 13:09, 17 July 2009 (UTC)
Just in case (because I almost did it), this thread refers to the use of the Semicolon in Arabic. This particular usage is 100% wrong in English, and I almost jumped the gun and corrected you '>.< --King ♣ Talk 15:23, 17 July 2009 (UTC)

British English Vs US English use of Semicolon[edit]

The semicolon has a slightly different use in US english compared to UK english... To my knowledge the semicolon is not used to list items.

For example - true story.

Once when i was in secondary school (British high school) I plagiarised some text from an American encyclopeida listing various ancestors of a type of mammal - upon showing the the finished peice of work to my teacher she immediately gave me a detention as she knew i had copied it from my use of the semicolon - it was the US English use of the symbol which we were never taught. Later on i mentioned this a few years later to another English teacher and he confirmed that the American use of the semicolon differs from the british.

I think this is an important issue with this wiki page as its main purpose is to explain and define the meaning of the semicolon, it could easily mislead British users.

I have no information on how the australian english use differs if at all. -- (talk) 11:38, 5 August 2009 (UTC)


Props to whoever put the Bioshock reference in there; it makes this article 1000 times more awesome! (+1 semicolon use!) (talk) 16:19, 25 February 2010 (UTC)

It's a little embarrassing to have to read. Even Wikipedia is filled with these internet types. -- (talk) 20:19, 18 March 2010 (UTC)

Agreed, I thought it was a great little easter egg, along with the Assassin's Creed reference. Hey, as long as its a valid example, I don't think it's against any rules. Editor's can have fun too, no need to be embarrassed. (talk) 19:14, 13 June 2013 (UTC)

Serial Comma[edit]

"Examples of familiar sequences are: one, two and three; a, b, and c; and first, second, and third." I don't know if we're Americans or Brits here at Wikipedia, and I'm too lazy to find out, but we should be consistent in our use of serial commas before the last element in a list, at least in the same sentence. -- (talk) 19:53, 6 May 2010 (UTC)

It is acceptable both to put a comma before the and and not to do so. Different manuals of style say different things about this, though. (talk) 14:20, 2 August 2011 (UTC)

The Oatmeal[edit]

The final external link in the article refers to The Oatmeal's guide on the semicolon. Is this really a reliable source? Matthew Inman isn't a linguistics professor; he's a website designer turned web comic author. I think the link should be removed. Interchangable|talk to me|what I've changed 22:07, 20 July 2011 (UTC)

Archaic use of the semicolon[edit]

In early 20th-century and 19th-century texts the semicolon seems to be used very often in a way that seems flagrantly incorrect according to the modern rules. Two examples from separate books:

"It has already been remarked that the oldest tradition knew only one Tarquin; and that at a later time . . . two Lucii Tarquinii were substituted for one . . ."
"There was war also in the middle march, where in 1220 a royal army was assembled against Llewelyn; but Pandulf negotiated a truce . . ."

Obviously it isn't the article's usage #1, and since "and" and "but" are coordinating conjunctions it's not usage #2. "And" and "but" aren't transitional phrases or conjunctive adverbs so it isn't #3 either (strictly it fails the traditional diagnostic of being able to write the clauses separated by the semicolon as separate sentences). Can anyone clarify this usage, preferably in the article as well? -- (talk) 16:39, 17 September 2012 (UTC)

Punctuation Inside Quotation Marks[edit]

I'm certainly no linguist, but in reading this page I was wondering- shouldn't punctuation be inside the quotes? As of now, the examples of opinions against the semicolon appear incorrect.

"They are old-fashioned", "They are middle-class", "They are optional", "They are mysteriously connected to pausing", "They are dangerously addictive (vide Virginia Woolf)", and "The difference between them is too negligible to be grasped by the brain of man".

Rjhomuth (talk) 18:46, 21 April 2013 (UTC)

There are differing conventions concerning the placing of punctuation at the end of quoted material; the Wikipedia:Manual of Style subscribes to logical quotes. --catslash (talk) 21:47, 21 April 2013 (UTC)

Math Language[edit]

The explanation for mathematics usage "separate variables and parameters" is ambiguous language. It can mean "separate the variables from the parameters", "separate variables and/or parameters; whichever is in the list", "individually separate all variables and parameters". It's not really clear what the author meant here - can we have a more specific explanation? — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 09:19, 28 April 2013 (UTC)

Thanks for spotting this. It meant "separate the variables from the parameters". I've clarified it in the article. Duoduoduo (talk) 19:50, 24 May 2013 (UTC)


I can't find a reference to these rules that can't be traced back to this page. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 22:47, 3 November 2013 (UTC)

Truss info[edit]

I returned the Truss info to the lede:

1. Much of the rest of the lede is sourced by Truss's work as well. Her work is notable; it doesn't need to be "scholarly". It just needs to meet the requirements of a reliable source.
2. The rest of the article only talks about specific languages. General comments about the semicolon don't belong only in one section.
3. The lede needs expansion, not reduction.

Glad to see some interest though. I hope others will work to continue to improve this article. Airborne84 (talk) 20:44, 16 January 2014 (UTC)

Utterly ridiculous. There are as many published authors with opinions on semicolons as there are birds in the sky. None of their opinions on a stylistic matter - especially when they only apply to the English language; that's systemic bias in action - are appropriate for solely gracing the introduction of the article. Read MOS:INTRO. — Scott talk 21:17, 6 May 2014 (UTC)