For instance, take the sentence "Go wash the windows; I like green bears." Given that the two clauses must be closely related because they are joined by a semicolon, is there any other way to interpret this sentence besides it being a command to wash the windows because the speaker likes green bears? Alternatively, if the order is reversed ("I like green bears; go wash the windows") is there any other way to interpret the sentence besides "I like the green bears, so go wash the windows"? I'm asking this question as it pertains to a 19th century British poem, so I'd like to know if the usage in this particular case is any different for that time/location.

This would be different from instances where a semicolon could have multiple specific meanings, like "Go wash the windows; don't break the ladder" (the semicolon could be replaced by "and" or "but") or "Roses are red; violets are blue" (ditto). (Are there other interpretations for those sentences as well?)

  • Good question. Can you give us a link to the poem, please? I cannot think of any instance where a semicolon connecting a preceding imperative with a following declarative would not imply "because," but if the poem calls it into question for you, let's have a look at it. Feb 28, 2016 at 22:16
  • I'm guessing Keats' Ode to a Green Bear.
    – deadrat
    Feb 29, 2016 at 0:12
  • Ha, actually it's An Invite to Eternity by John Clare. Sorry I forgot to include it earlier, it must have slipped my mind... Feb 29, 2016 at 23:29

1 Answer 1


A semi-colon connecting a declarative and an imperative can indicate a non-causal association. For example, "Red sky at morning; sailors take warning." The red-sky in the morning doesn't cause bad weather or vice versa. The red-sky and the forthcoming bad weather are both effects of a common cause: the pressure involved (high or low).

  • "Sailors take warning" can be parsed as declarative rather than imperative, and its contrastive partner "Sailors delight" seems more likely declarative than imperative, if "delight" is even a verb at all. ("Sailor's delight" is an eminently possible alternative reading.) In any case, we do not there have the pattern imperative+semicolon+declarative, with the imperative preceding the semicolon. Feb 28, 2016 at 23:25
  • Yes, "sailors take warning" can be viewed as a declarative -- noticing a fact about sailors. "Sailors take warning" can be viewed as an imperative: "Sailors should take warning" or "Sailors! "Take warning." As to your second point requiring the imperative first. You gave two examples. With the imperative first, the semi-colon functioned as "because". With the imperative second, the semi-colon functioned as "so". My example responded to the "so" case. To reply to your first case, simply reverse the admonition: "Sailors take warning; red sky at morning." Mar 1, 2016 at 4:18
  • On re-reading your post, the title (does this necessitate a causal relationship) is completely separate from everything in your post (the semi-colon indicates either 'because' or 'so'. Yes, 'because' and 'so' can be used in expressing causal relationships, but that is not a requirement. Mar 1, 2016 at 4:26

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