"This is not a film about people with disabilities, but about the deep paths of human communication."

Could I change this to -

"This is not a film about people with disabilities; but the deep paths of human communication."

Or would a comma instead of the semi-colon suffice?

  • 1
    I'd say a semicolon there is too heavy; a comma is sufficient to mark the boundary of the coordinate. – BillJ May 4 '16 at 15:03
  • I would say a comma isn't even needed here, as the second part is not an independent clause. "This is not a film about people with disabilities**,** but it is a film about the deep paths of human communication" would be two independent clauses, using the verb to be in both. I invite you to read this short article : grammarly.com/handbook/punctuation/comma/23/comma-before-but – MorganFR May 4 '16 at 15:17
  • Your second clause is not a sentence. No comma is used. If you expect the reader to pause, your best option is an em-dash. Neither of your examples is correct unless your intent for the clause beginning with but is nonessential, which it isn't. – Stu W May 4 '16 at 15:20
  • It's a coordination of two about - preposition phrases. Punctuation does vary, but it's not at all unusual to find a comma being used when the second coordinate asserts an opposite or quite different meaning to the first. – BillJ May 4 '16 at 16:08
  • I see. It's the repetition of "about" that has thrown me slightly.. – Graeme Campbell May 4 '16 at 16:59

No. A semicolon should be used in one of the following situations:

  1. To separate two linked sentences (note: as they are sentences, they must contain a verb)
  2. To separate list items that contain commas

In your original sentence, the second part is not a sentence (it contains no verb) and it means nothing standing alone. It does not work to use a semicolon there.

A comma suffices.

For more reading on the list usage of semicolons, see this SE post: Using a semicolon between elements in a list

thanks to @VampDuc for pointing out the need for sentences either side, rather than clauses

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    If I remember correctly, the general rule (to supplement your #1 point) is that both sides of a semicolon should contain complete sentences. Therefore, if either side is not a sentence after adding the semicolon, then you cannot use a semicolon. – VampDuc May 4 '16 at 18:50
  • @VampDuc - yes, I think your clarification is correct. Clauses alone are not always sufficient; full sentences are required on both sides. To save confusion, I will edit my answer accordingly. – almcnicoll May 4 '16 at 21:38
  • You don't include any supporting evidence for your claims here. And you don't pronounce on whether the second sentence can acceptably start with say 'and' or 'but'. – Edwin Ashworth May 3 '18 at 8:58

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