Can a semicolon be used here? "Hello Justin; this is Rebecca." Or is it just a comma that should be placed there? Or do of them both work in a sentence?

  • 1
    Not an official answer, but I'd just split into two sentences. – PixelArtDragon Jun 7 '13 at 19:18
  • You will probably only find this type of question answered in style guides (if there). Punctuation for strings below sentence level is largely a grey area (consider the correct decimal marker issue). FWIW, I wouldn't be bothered about the use of a comma, semicolon, dash, ellipsis or two sentences here. I'd go with how much of a pause / how abrupt a transition I felt I wanted. Punctuation is meant to help us, not cause us problems (in interpretation of the string or in choice of correct type). Does using any of my suggested types cause a problem in interpretation? – Edwin Ashworth Jul 30 '17 at 14:17

The comma should go right after "Hello". As for the semicolon, it should be replaced with a stop in this case, as there are two distinct sentences to separate. A semicolon is used to separate ideas belonging to the same sentence.

  • 1
    The period (stop) between sentences is preferable, but the comma after Hello is mandatory. – Andrew Lazarus Jun 9 '13 at 5:13
  • Why? How can we judge whether your opinion is correct without any justification, e.g. extracts from respected authors, etc. Your opinion may be shared by others. I certainly see no need for a stop. One way of regarding punctuation is in relation to pauses in speech. My punctuation would reflect that. (So I better make it answer.) – David Jul 30 '17 at 11:36

I would replace the semicolon with a fullstop in your sentence.

Normally, semicolons are used to separate two main clauses that are semantically connected.

  • I think there's a typo in your first line - should be semicolon. I tried editing it, but correct is too short to allow me to. – TrevorD Jun 7 '13 at 23:40
  • Thanks TrevorD! You are right, of course! I've just edited my answer! – rena Jun 8 '13 at 4:32

The proposed usage is probably not going to raise any eyebrows, though I'd expect to see a comma or full stop being more typical, as other contributors point out.

The semicolon comes into play when you have long and complex sentences, and you need a separator that is "stronger" than a comma, but "weaker" than a full stop. You won't need it in such a short and simple sentence.

In grade school they'll teach you to use a semi-colon to separate two consecutive comma-delimited lists belonging to the same sentence. e.g.,

There are three ways to make the drink: lime, rum and water; lemon, rum and water; or orange juice, rum and water.

Semicolons are really in their natural environment in legal texts. Consider:

(a) Permit to construct. Before any actual work is begun on the facility, any person who plans to construct any new facility or to engage in the modification of any existing facility which may emit air contaminants into the air of this state shall either:
  (1) obtain a permit under §116.111 of this title (relating to General Application);
  (2) satisfy the conditions for a standard permit under the requirements in:
    (A) Subchapter F of this chapter (relating to Standard Permits);
    (B) Chapter 321, Subchapter B of this title (relating to Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations);
    (C) Chapter 332 of this title (relating to Composting); or
    (D) Chapter 330, Subchapter N of this title (relating to Landfill Mining);
  (3) satisfy the conditions for a flexible permit under the requirements in Subchapter G of this chapter (relating to Flexible Permits);
  (4) satisfy the conditions for facilities permitted by rule under Chapter 106 of this title (relating to Permits by Rule); or
  (5) satisfy the criteria for a de minimis facility or source under §116.119 of this title (relating to De Minimis Facilities or Sources).

The entire example can be read as a single sentence, so it only gets one full stop, at the very end. There is a list numbered (1)--(5) and item (2) contains a sublist numbered (A)--(D). Each list or sublist item potentially contains a comma, so you can't use commas to separate them. Your only remaining choice is the semicolon. In a sentence of this level of complexity you also need colons, which tell you that a new list or sublist is being started. There is no formal marker that tells you that item (D) belongs to a different list than item (3), but that is what the section/subsection numbering is for!


Punctuation is a matter of style, at least to a certain extent. Fashions come and go. There are at least three reasons for adapting a particular style of punctuation: custom (what you observe others doing or what your publisher’s house style is), aid to reading by indicating position and length of pauses (especially for reported speech) and aid to reading complex texts by a hierarchy of divisions (commas will come in blocks of text separated by semi-colons).

My instinctive response to this question — and even more to some of the answers — was based on where and how long the pauses were, in what was a piece of reported speech. Adopting this approach:

  1. What punctuation mark should come between “Justin” and “This”? If it were a normal conversation I would think the pause would not be long enough for the full-stop (period) required for a separate sentence. However if it were a telephone conversation over a bad line, or to a child or a foreigner, then it might require a stop. For a normal conversational pause I would use a comma, seeing no need to indicate that it was slightly longer. I tend to save semi-colons for separating ideas in longer sentences where there are colons.

  2. Should there be a comma after “Hello”? An example of this usage is seen in the title of the musical “Hello, Dolly!”. However in this case there is nothing following the name (other than an exclamation mark) and the title song of the same name is sung with a distinct pause after “Hello”. So, assuming a normal telephone conversation, I would reflect the pauses in the punctuation:

“Hello Justin, this is Rebecca.”

If the context were different and the pauses not as I have assumed, then the punctuation would be different — especially in a novel, where one would be using the punctuation to try to reflect the tone.

However, I am forced to admit that leaving out a comma before Justin is not the customary style. A google ngram search for the more traditional “Good morning sir” (you can’t put a comma in the query) followed by inspection of the actual text in the books indicates a comma has been usual, at least since the 19th century. Thus an example from Dickens’ Dombey and son:

‘Good morning, Sir.’ said Miss Tox: very coldly.

This example also illustrates how fashions change — the colon, however admirably it allows emphasis on the final adverbial phrase, would hardly be used today.

A justification, other than custom, for:

“Hello, Justin, this is Rebecca.”

might be that it separates the person being addressed from the information communicated to him. Or that his name is not ‘Hello Justin’ like ‘Hello Kitty’. The ‘Hello Kitty’ remark my appear trivial, but one wonders whether the popularity of that phenomenon with its lack of comma might influence future fashion.

What of the stop after “Justin”?

“Hello, Justin. This is Rebecca.”

A purist would justify this by saying that it is needed because there are two sentences (a general position which I would normally support). But it seems to me a special circumstance, which is why there are examples in the books retrieved from the ngram search above (mainly drama) in which there is no stop:

Good morning, sir, will you have the goodness to… (The Dollar Magazine, 1842)

Good morning, Sirs, pleased to meet you, Sir. (The Great Mistake, 1996)

However many examples do have a stop. And so shall I.

  • I was about to downvote for lack of any attempt to conform to normal practice so as to avoid (avoidable) confusion. But your 'Hello, Dolly!' example has merit. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 30 '17 at 14:07
  • @EdwinAshworth — I have edited my answer to acknowledge the alternatives. I think it important that one understands why one is punctuating in a particular way, but also that answers here justify their assertions or argue a point with convincing logic.The top two currently most highly voted answers do not do this, and nobody other than me has commented. Should they be flagged as low quality answers for just making assertions? – David Jul 30 '17 at 16:59
  • Hello, I like this answer quite a bit. – Mari-Lou A Jul 30 '17 at 18:24
  • It's much more balanced now. I'd say that there's a hierarchy in demands correctly made on punctuation, clarification / ease of parsing being in prime position. But certainly signalling of pause length / abruptness of transition by stops etc is valuable. Punctuation is overworked and is insufficient to fill all roles satisfactorily at all times, and (possibly less importantly) is used differently by different people. Annoying 'rules' (eg 'use a colon to introduce sentences in direct speech longer than ...') need to be ditched. Along with horrendous zeugmas. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 30 '17 at 20:46

There are many ways to use a semicolon. You could probably use a semicolon in your sentence, but I wouldn't.

A semicolon can be used to connect to independent clauses that are similar or related. It replaces a period, or full stop, so the reader doesn't pause as long between the two independent clauses. I think you would want a full stop here.

Here's a link to more rules and tips for using semicolons.


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