Punctuation Tips: When to Capitalize After a Semicolon
  • 3-minute read
  • 21st July 2023

Punctuation Tips: When to Capitalize After a Semicolon

Semicolons can be tricky for most writers due to their seemingly confusing uses. Unsurprisingly, many writers tend to avoid using semicolons as a result. However, did you know there are times when it is necessary to capitalize words after using a semicolon?

In this post, you will learn:

●  The role of semicolons in writing

●  Basic capitalization rules

●  When and when not to capitalize after using a semicolon

Learning a bit about semicolons and capitalization rules is essential to understand capitalization rules after using a semicolon.

What Are Semicolons?

A semicolon connects two related independent clauses that could otherwise be joined using coordinating conjunctions:

Dad is going to the supermarket, and he is buying food for the party.

A semicolon replaces the comma and coordinating conjunction:

Dad is going to the supermarket; he is buying food for the party.

A semicolon can also be used where the related clause begins with a conjunctive adverb and would look like this:

I went out for a walk; however, it started to rain shortly after.

Notice that in those examples we did not capitalize “he” or “however.”

Sometimes writers incorrectly use a semicolon to connect unrelated clauses:

Sharks are fierce animals; I love black coffee.

We use semicolons to divide items in lists where one or more of those items contains a comma:

For my trip, I’ll need the weather forecasts for the following cities: Madrid, Spain; Brussels, Belgium; Munich, Germany; and Athens, Greece.

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Basic Capitalization Rules

There are various capitalization rules in English; however, we generally capitalize proper nouns. Capitalization rules often trip up English learners since not all proper nouns are capitalized in their first language. We usually capitalize the names of organizations, countries, cities, people, days of the week, and months of the year. For example:

Terry is going to Madrid on Monday to visit the Prado Museum.

When to Capitalize After a Semicolon?

We generally do not capitalize after using a semicolon; however, there are certain exceptions.

Exception 1: Proper Nouns

If the first word after a semicolon is a proper noun, we must capitalize it. Period.

Taylor likes coffee; Tony likes tea.

Exception 2: Subject Pronoun “I”

Like proper nouns, we capitalize the subject pronoun “I” after a semicolon just as we would elsewhere in a sentence.

Mark loves winter; i love summer.
Mark loves winter; I love summer.

Exception 3: Multi-Author Citations

There is another example of capitalizing after a semicolon when citing multiple authors in an in-text citation and reference list for an academic paper. In a parenthetical citation with two authors, we capitalize the second author after the semicolon, as it is a proper noun.

(Abbott, 1992; Henricks, 2003)

Note that we list the authors in alphabetical order in this situation.

When Not to Capitalize After a Semicolon

Because you are connecting what could be two complete sentences, it is easy to see why you might want to capitalize the first word of both. But remember, you do not capitalize after a semicolon if:

●  The word is not a proper noun or the subject pronoun “I”

●  The word is a conjunctive adverb (however, moreover, therefore)


Remember to capitalize proper nouns and the subject pronoun “I” after using a semicolon. Moreover, when you have a multi-author parenthetical citation in an academic paper, you must capitalize the second author’s name after the semicolon.

Writers mostly have capitalization issues when dealing with semicolons because they connect two independent clauses. Because those clauses could be written as separate sentences, writers incorrectly assume that the first word of the second clause must be capitalized.

On a final note, capitalizing words after semicolons can go unnoticed in writing. For this reason, we recommend proofreading your writing before submitting it. We understand the challenges of proofreading, which is why we recommend asking our proofreading experts to review your writing. They can check that you have correctly capitalized (or not) after using semicolons. Additionally, they will check your grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Consider submitting a 500-word document for free!

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