The Semicolon

XXI. The semicolon is the point usually employed to separate parts of a sentence between which there is a very distinct break, but which are too intimately connected to be made separate sentences.

The patient dates his pleasure from the day when he feels that his cure has begun; and, perhaps, the day of his perfect re-establishment does not yield him pleasure so great.

The author himself is the best judge of his own performance; no one has so deeply meditated on the subject; no one is so sincerely interested in the event.

Not one word is said, nor one suggestion made, of a general right to choose our own governors; to cashier them for misconduct; and to form a government for ourselves.

The semicolon is used in enumerations, as in the last example, in order to keep the parts more distinctly separate.

XXII. When a sentence consists of two or more independent clauses not joined by conjunctions, the clauses are separated by semicolons.

To command a crime is to commit one; he who commands an assassination, is by every one regarded as an assassin.

His knowledge was too multifarious to be always exact; his pursuits were too eager to be always cautious.

If the conjunction "and" were inserted in the last sentence, the comma would be used instead of the semicolon. A conjunction forms a bridge over the gap between two statements, and, where they are neither long nor complicated, we pass from one to the other without noticing any distinct break. But there is such a break when the conjunction is omitted, and therefore we use a stronger point. The two parts of an antithesis are generally separated in this way.

XXIII. A pause generally indicated by a comma may be indicated by a semicolon when commas are used in the sentence for other purposes. (See Introduction: Relativity of Points.)

I got several things of less value, but not all less useful to me, which I omitted setting down before: as, in particular, pens, ink, and paper; several parcels in the captain's, mate's, gunner's, and carpenter's keeping; three or four compasses, some mathematical instruments, dials, perspectives, charts, and books of navigation.

In this I was certainly in the wrong too, the honest, grateful creature having no thought but what consisted of the best principles, both as a religious Christian and as a grateful friend; as appeared afterward to my full satisfaction.

In the first sentence the semicolon enables us to group the objects enumerated. Had commas been used throughout, the reader would have been left to find out the arrangement for himself.