Oftentimes, two independent clauses are linked by a comma and a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, nor, for, yet). If they are not linked in this way, they frequently are not linked at all. Instead, the two clauses are made into independent sentences separated by a period.
However, when two independent clauses are closely related to each other a semicolon may be used to link them. In these cases, the second clause is an extension of the ideas contained in the first. The two clauses have a very particular, balanced relationship.
Here are a couple of examples that use all three methods discussed above:
I’m returning to the magistrate, and you are coming with me.
I’m returning to the magistrate. You are coming with me.
I’m returning to the magistrate; you are coming with me.
He was larger, but she was faster.
He was larger. She was faster.
He was larger; she was faster.
Usually, a semicolon is not used with a coordinating conjunction. But on rare occasions, this particular construction aids with readability and makes the break between independent clauses more clear.
There are two main reasons for this exception: 1) the two independent clauses are exceedingly complex or long, and 2) one or both of the independent clauses already contain several commas.
Their country had the largest fleet, the fastest cavalry, and the finest infantry of the three lands; but numbers, strength, or training would not aid them in this fight.
Though this exception exists, most of time it would be best to separate the two clauses and make them into independent sentences.
Their country had the largest fleet, the fastest cavalry, and the finest infantry of the three lands. But numbers, strength, or training would not aid them in this fight.
Tomorrow, we will be discussing how to link independent clauses using transitional words. I hope to see you then!
Note: In writing, punctuation can aid in the creation of mood just as easily as the words themselves. Keep this in mind when choosing when or where to add semicolons. Sometimes a semicolon will work; sometimes it won’t work.
Day One: Introduction to Semicolons
Day Three: Linking Closely Related Independent Clauses <you are here>
Day Five: Common Misuses of Semicolons