"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
    Commented May 4, 2016 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
    Commented May 4, 2016 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
    Commented May 4, 2016 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
    Commented May 4, 2016 at 16:08
  • I see. It's the repetition of "about" that has thrown me slightly.. Commented May 4, 2016 at 16:59

1 Answer 1


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

  • 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
    Commented May 4, 2016 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
    Commented May 4, 2016 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'. Commented May 3, 2018 at 8:58

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