Difference between a Comma and a Semicolon

March 8, 2017 by Editorial Team

No matter how good you think you are at written English, there will be times when you just have to pause and think, “should I use a comma or should I put a semicolon there instead?” Although a comma and a semicolon have completely different functions in a sentence, some people may still be confused as to which one to use in some cases. This article will discuss the difference between a comma and semicolon.

Descriptions

A comma (,) is a punctuation mark that is generally used to identify a break or pause in a statement. More specifically, it is used to:

  1. Distinguish items in a series or list; for example: “Mark loves to cook, play the guitar, and paint landscapes.”
  2. Connect two independent clauses by pairing it with a conjunction; for example: “He said he’s sorry, yet he still lies to you!”
  3. Start introductory phrases; for example: “Crying in the rain, she finally came to her senses and realized that she did not deserve to be treated the way Jason treated her.”
  4. Introduce a dependent clause in a sentence; for example: “If you think he won’t accept the offer, message me right away.”
  5. Indicate added information in a statement; for example: “The vintage lace dress, which was worn by her great grandmother in 1926, was finally found and returned to Shiela a week after it was declared lost.”
  6. Separate a series of coordinated adjectives; for example: “Sophie’s Bakery makes fluffy, moist, delicious, and unique cakes!”
  7. Separate quoted phrases in a statement; for example: “‘I was wondering,’ said Frederick, ‘if you’d want to go out with me this Saturday night.'”
  8. Indicate opposing phrases; for example: “The nanny was polite to us, but very harsh to the kids.”
  9. Clarify the meaning of the statement by indicating a pause or break; for example: “For some people, quitting a bad habit is not easy.”
  10. Separate a city and a state or country in a sentence; for example: “He lives in Las Vegas, Nevada.”
  11. Separate a date and the year; for example: “My second child was born on February 2nd, 2002.”
  12. Separate a person’s name from his or her title; for example: “Send your application letter to Matilda H. Bradey, Senior Accountant.”
  13. Separate digits in large numbers; for example: “There were 456,789 people in the arena.”

On the other hand, a semicolon (;) is a punctuation mark that separates thoughts. It is particularly used to:

  1. Separate different elements in a series or list that already contain commas; for example: “My dad traveled to Hanoi, Vietnam; Bangkok, Thailand; Manila, Philippines; and Phnom Penh, Cambodia when he was only 14 years old.”
  2. Connect two independent clauses or abrupt sentences that may have related thoughts; for example: “It rained heavily last night; our basement was flooded.”

Comparison

A comma (,) is specifically used to separate items and adjectives in a list, connect two independent clauses when used with a conjunction, start introductory phrases in a statement and introduce a dependent clause in a sentence. It is also used to indicate added information, quoted phrases, and opposing phrases in a statement. Moreover, a comma is added to clarify the meaning of the statement by indicating a pause or break. It is also used to separate a city and a state or country, a date and year, a person’s name from his or her title, and digits in large numbers.

On the other hand, a semicolon (;) is used to separate elements in a list that already contain commas. It is also used to connect two independent clauses or abrupt sentences that may have related thoughts.

Comparison Chart

CommaSemicolon
,;
Used to separate items in a list; connect two independent clauses used with a conjunction; start introductory phrases in a statement; introduce a dependent clause in a sentence; indicate added information in a sentence; separate a series of adjectives; separate quoted phrases in a statement; indicate opposing phrases; clarify the meaning of a statement by indicating a pause; separate a city and a state or country; separate a date and year; separate a person’s name from his or her title; separate digits in large numbersUsed to separate elements in a list that already contains commas and is also used to connect two independent clauses or abrupt sentences that may have related thoughts.