semi·​co·​lon ˈse-mē-ˌkō-lən How to pronounce semicolon (audio)
: a punctuation mark; used chiefly in a coordinating function between major sentence elements (such as independent clauses of a compound sentence)

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The semicolon was introduced into modern type by an Italian printer around 1566. But since it's actually the same symbol as the ancient Greek question mark, it's older than the colon (:), which first appears around 1450. Don't mix the two up. A colon introduces something: usually a list, sometimes a statement. A semicolon separates two independent but related clauses; it may also replace the comma to separate items in a complicated list.

Check out our guide on how and when to use semicolons.

Examples of semicolon in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Look for Saturn and the crescent moon to form their version of a semicolon in the southwest evening sky. David Streit, Washington Post, 16 Nov. 2023 Throughout, Murray employs linguistic choices to distinguish the perspectives, most notably in Imelda’s section, where Murray eschews punctuation: no periods, no commas, no dashes, no semicolons — only the occasional question mark. Jonathan Russell Clark, Los Angeles Times, 10 Aug. 2023 Dear reader: First of all, nice use of a semicolon. Lucas Daprile, cleveland, 2 Aug. 2023 Each part of that sentence flanking the semicolon is a sentence on its own, so intimately related that using a semicolon marries them, thereby cementing clarity. Gary Gilson, Star Tribune, 26 June 2021 Get on top of the pen good-oh, fill in here and there, scattergun semicolons, while my heart pushes hard in protest against the seesawing wagon of ribs that encloses it. Claire-Louise Bennett, Harper's Magazine, 10 Aug. 2022 Early this year, Film Forum, the redoubtable revival house on West Houston Street, drew overflow crowds for a documentary about two elderly men squaring off over semicolons and commas. David Remnick, The New Yorker, 14 June 2023 Known for his crisp prose, foreboding view of humanity, uncompromising approach to death and violence — and rebellion against quote marks and semicolons — McCarthy was celebrated as one of the leading American authors of his time. Chris Koseluk, The Hollywood Reporter, 13 June 2023 Avoid too many semicolons and italics, etc. Melissa Rodman, The New Republic, 1 Mar. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'semicolon.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

First Known Use

1644, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of semicolon was in 1644

Dictionary Entries Near semicolon

Cite this Entry

“Semicolon.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 6 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


semi·​co·​lon ˈsem-i-ˌkō-lən How to pronounce semicolon (audio)
: a punctuation mark that can be used to separate parts of a sentence which need clearer separation than would be shown by a comma, to separate main clauses which have no conjunction between, and to separate phrases and clauses containing commas

More from Merriam-Webster on semicolon

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