semi·​co·​lon | \ ˈse-mē-ˌkō-lən How to pronounce semicolon (audio) , ˈse-ˌmī-, -mi- \

Definition of semicolon

: 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 The shift from semicolon to parentheses has provoked public dissatisfaction. New York Times, 2 Apr. 2022 On his right arm is a semicolon, a common suicide awareness tattoo in the color teal for post-traumatic stress disorder awareness. Washington Post, 11 Mar. 2022 Pity the forlorn semicolon; battered by critics from every direction. Gary Gilson, Star Tribune, 26 June 2021 Changing a comma to a semicolon alters the meaning of death. Matthew J. Palm,, 12 Sep. 2021 The semicolon represents the power and strength of living in your light, and this beautiful piece is a priceless reminder. Glamour, 21 May 2021 For two weeks, 196 countries had huddled in countless meetings, wrangling over dense pages of text, scrutinizing every semicolon. Fiona Harvey, Wired, 26 Dec. 2020 Using the tools provided, fans can put together a little woven mat, adorned with a white semicolon as a tribute to the album's name. Natalie Morin,, 23 Oct. 2020 The poet Ron Padgett pointed out to me the technical shrewdness of the compound last line: the all-time best use of a semicolon in place of a line break. Peter Schjeldahl, The New Yorker, 16 Dec. 2019 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'semicolon.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of semicolon

1644, in the meaning defined above

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Time Traveler for semicolon

Time Traveler

The first known use of semicolon was in 1644

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Dictionary Entries Near semicolon



semicolon butterfly

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Last Updated

9 Apr 2022

Cite this Entry

“Semicolon.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 21 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for semicolon


semi·​co·​lon | \ ˈse-mi-ˌkō-lən How to pronounce semicolon (audio) \

Kids Definition of semicolon

: 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

Nglish: Translation of semicolon for Spanish Speakers Encyclopedia article about semicolon


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