The semicolon is a strong member of the punctuation team, serving a multitude of functions. Unfortunately, most people have no idea what to do with them, so you will either see them thrown into sentences randomly or perhaps not at all. Here are a few places where it is correct to use a semicolon:
• Linking independent clauses that carry equal weight:
“She was a star athlete; she even considered trying out for the Olympics.”
• To bring clarity amidst a series of commas:
“Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine of the 70s was an amazing team. Some of its stars included Johnny Bench, catcher; Tony Concepcion, shortstop; and Pete Rose, left fielder.”
• Between adverbs that join independent clauses:
“The roads are really icy tonight; therefore, I won’t be attending the dinner party.”
Do not use semicolons…
• In the place of colons to introduce phrases, a list, or an independent clause:
“There are only three colors I like: purple, blue, and turquoise.”
I’ve frequently seen the semi-colon used in place of the colon in such situations, but that is not correct usage.
• Instead of commas between a dependent clause and the main clause:
“He got a ‘C’ on the test, even though he studied all night.”
For a complete review of semicolon usage, look at a style manual, such as the Chicago Manual of Style, the AP Style Manual, or any grammar guide. Used properly, the semicolon adds clarity and pace to your writing. Used incorrectly, it can bring confusion to your sentences and create distractions.