Today, friends and frenemies (we know you\u2019re out there), we\u2019re looking at the semicolon, including when this punctuation mark should be used in formal writing (i.e. not for making emoticons wink). We\u2019ll also take a look at the difference between semicolons and colons.\n\nUsing a Semicolon to Link Sentences\nThe main use of the semicolon is to link two sentences. This emphasizes a connection between independent clauses that would otherwise be separated by a period. For instance, the following sentences work by themselves:\nMy favorite food is spam. I spend a fortune on tinned meat.\nHowever, we could link them with a semicolon to show that they are connected:\nMy favorite food is spam; I spend a fortune on tinned meat.\nThis makes it obvious that my love of spam and my meat expenses are related.\n\n\n[caption id="attachment_2501" align="aligncenter" width="359"] I also wear this outfit every day. I have a problem.(Photo: Charles LeBlanc\/flickr)[\/caption]\nLinking sentences like this is common when the second sentence starts with a conjunctive adverb (e.g., \u201chowever\u201d or \u201cfurthermore\u201d) or a transition phrase (e.g., \u201cas a result\u201d):\nI love spam; consequently, I eat it for every meal.\nAs above, this emphasizes the connection between the two statements.\nGenerally speaking, you shouldn\u2019t use a semicolon before conjunctions like \u201cbut\u201d or \u201cand,\u201d although they can be used for clarity if either of the clauses being joined contains a comma.\n\nUsing Semicolons in a List\nThe second important use of semicolons is to separate items in a list. Usually, commas are enough for short, simple lists (like the following):\nThe menu offered four choices: spam, eggs, grits or pancakes.\nHowever, if the listed items are more complex and already include commas, using semicolons to distinguish between them aids clarity:\nThe menu offered four choices: spam, fries and beans; pancakes, syrup and spam; egg, bacon and spam; or spam, spam, spam, spam and spam.\nHere, for instance, using semicolons clearly shows where one item on the menu ends and another begins. Using only commas in a list like this, by comparison, could be confusing.\n\n\nSemicolon or Colon?\nKnowing when to use a semicolon and when to use a colon can be tricky, since colons can also be used to link two related sentences. There are two factors to consider here.\nThe first is that semicolons can only be used to link complete sentences, whereas the information following a colon can be as little as a single word. For instance:\nThere\u2019s only one food I can\u2019t stand: spam.\nIf we wanted to rewrite this using a semicolon, we\u2019d have to use two independent clauses:\nThere\u2019s only one food I can\u2019t stand; I hate the taste of spam.\n\n\n[caption id="attachment_2498" align="aligncenter" width="251"] Just Say No (to Spam)[\/caption]\nThe second consideration is that the information following a colon is usually an explanation or specification of a general statement (i.e., more general: more specific).\nWith a semicolon, however, the sentences linked are typically of equal weight or importance.