How to correctly use the semicolon in 5 different languages

Hello Yuqo
The semicolon is the wild child of punctuation. You could write an entire book and never use it. However, understanding their correct use is a vital skill for writers, no matter the language.

Knowing how and when to use punctuation is an integral part of writing. An acquired skill by writers and a pet peeve for editors, correct punctuation is easy to implement but difficult to master. That is where Yuqo comes in. We break down the specifics of punctuation, how to use it correctly, and how punctuation varies from language to language.


What is a semicolon?
The semicolon is uniquely positioned. While many authors favour its use, numerous writers have refused to integrate it all together. Therein lies the problem with semicolons; you could go your entire writing career without ever needing to use one. Assuming the aim is a proficient and effective use of semicolons, we will continue with the basic premise of using one. A semicolon is a punctuation mark that separates major elements, such as two independent clauses. They are also used in lists in place of a comma, specifically when aspects of that list already contain commas. Always followed by a lowercase letter (unless that word is usually capitalised), they also typically fall inside of quotation marks. An example of correct semicolon use would be the following:

Yuqo quotes“For breakfast, I had pancakes, waffles, and a smoothie; followed by fried bread, tomatoes, and an egg; with a muffin, ice cream, and rice pudding”.



The history of the semicolon
The first recorded print of the semicolon was by Italian printer Aldus Manutius in 1494. Manutius popularised the use of semicolons when separating words of opposed meaning. The journey of the semicolon was not always smooth sailing, with famous writer George Orwell refusing to use it in his work. Fast-forwarding to modern-day use, semicolons often get employed for linking related clauses. The first notable English writer to feature semicolons throughout his work was Ben Jonson; other writers include American born E.E. Cummings.


How semicolons work in different languages
The semicolon, considered by some as a throwaway punctuation mark and others as the ultimate convention, is not used in the same context throughout different European languages. Understanding the unique circumstances for use can be vital, especially if the translation of written work is an aspect of your business.


English usage consists of the methods we have already discussed—primarily in joining two independent clauses without conjunction like “and”, or in lists where a comma is already in use.
“Katie liked going to the gym; Luke preferred watching Desperate Housewives”.


The use of the semicolon in Spanish is not too dissimilar to our own, featured when linking two related but independent clauses. There is a more significant margin for error in Spanish as the semicolon appears more subjectively than other punctuation marks. If the clauses are shorter, often a comma is used rather than a semicolon.
“I love you, you’re perfect” instead of “I love you; you’re perfect”.


Fortunately, the semicolon in French is virtually identical in its use to our own. The only marginal difference is the introduction of a space both before and after using the punctuation mark.
“The dog would not stop barking; neighbours were the cause of this”.


The “il punto e virgola” fulfils a similar role to the English semicolon, separating two main clauses—most notably when the clauses are of equal importance. A key difference, however, is that Italian semicolons may appear ahead of a conjunction like “but” (or “ma”), rather than the standard comma.
“It was raining cats and dogs; but that was ok with Josh”.


Our final example proves to be a little less exciting. German use of the semicolon is identical to English punctuation. That’s not to say all punctuation marks are similar; variations exist with quotation marks, apostrophes, and commas.