What’s your opinion on semicolons and exclamation marks?

Last changed: 11 July 2023

There are punctuation marks that usually go unnoticed. And there are those that cause duels and fuel debates.

Between a comma and a full stop

Use a semicolon when a comma is too vague, but a full stop is too much. They are most commonly used to join sentences. The sentences must be independent and complete, and they must also be linked in some way. Think of the semicolon as a replacement for a coordinating conjunction like and or but.

Semicolons can also be used to break up a list if separating items with a comma isn’t enough.

Here, the semicolon separates items that are grouped together:

Erasmus partner universities include Universität Bayreuth, Germany;Escuela de Empresarios, Spain; Universidade Fernando Pessoa, Portugal;Trinity College Dublin, Ireland; Université de Mons, France.

In English, the semicolon has been the subject of debate since the 18th century. And it’s not the only language with an ambivalent attitude towards it. In France, it was once the subject of a duel. Read about this and more in an article on the life, and possible death, of the semicolon.

Think twice before using an exclamation mark!

If a lot of people have strong feelings about semicolons, the same is true of exclamation marks.

Miles Kington, a well-known British journalist, called them "the literary equivalent of a man holding up a card reading LAUGHTER to a studio audience", and The Great Gatsby author F. Scott Fitzgerald claimed they are “like laughing at your own jokes”.

Even if you don’t agree with these two writers, avoid exclamation marks in the writing you do at work – unless, of course, you’re just emailing a colleague. The Hubspot website has a helpful guide on when to use exclamation marks.

Read more

An article in defence of the semicolon

Published April 2021.