Was the semi-colon used correctly in this sentence?

In my opinion, anyone can apply this mindset to change unhealthy habits into good ones; and in return, turn his or her life around.

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The semicolon in the sentence in question does not connect two independent clauses, so it is used in the wrong place.

Semicolons help us connect closely related ideas when a style mark stronger than a comma is needed.

Rules for Using Semicolons

  1. A semicolon is most commonly used to link (in a single sentence) two independent clauses that are closely related in thought.

    When a semicolon is used to join two or more ideas (parts) in a sentence, those ideas are then given equal position or rank.

    Some people write with a word processor; others write with a pen or pencil.

  2. Use a semicolon between two independent clauses that are connected by conjunctive adverbs or transitional phrases.

    But however they choose to write, people are allowed to make their own decisions; as a result, many people swear by their writing methods.

  3. Use a semicolon between items in a list or series if any of the items contain commas.

    There are basically two ways to write: with a pen or pencil, which is inexpensive and easily accessible; or by computer and printer, which is more expensive but quick and neat.

  4. Use a semicolon between independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction if the clauses are already punctuated with commas or if the clauses are lengthy.

    Some people write with a word processor, typewriter, or a computer; but others, for different reasons, choose to write with a pen or pencil.

Avoid using a comma when a semicolon is needed:

Incorrect: The cow is brown, it is also old.
Correct: The cow is brown; it is also old.


The semicolon is not used correctly. The Chicago Manual of Style explains (emphasis mine) —

In regular prose, a semicolon is most commonly used between two independent clauses not joined by a conjunction to signal a closer connection between them than a period would.

The sentence does not contain two independent clauses. It has a single, main clause,

anyone can apply this mindset . . .

followed by two subordinate clauses,

to change habits . . .


to turn . . . life . . . around.

The sentence does have a conjunction. (Usually, when you see a conjunction used properly, it's a clue that the sentence may not be a good candidate for the use of a semicolon.)


Short answer: The semicolon should be changed to a comma.

Generally, a comma is used to join clauses (phrases) with a connector such as the word 'and' (Connector List). This is the reason the original question should have a comma where the semicolon currently is.

However, with longer, more complex clauses that each need commas of their own, a semicolon is acceptable to separate the two main clauses (Complex Clauses). While the original question is complex the words "and in return, turn his or her life around" is a sentence fragment and as such is a subordinate clause. To use a semicolon as placed, this section of the sentence would have be be worded something like "in return, they can turn their life around."

  • 4
    As a native speaker I have to disagree. I'd find it acceptable in a list with at least three items, at least one of which has a comma, but this usage definitely feels wrong. – Kevin Feb 13 '17 at 9:23
  • 4
    While this may be a complex clause, it is still a dependent clause so the semicolon is incorrect. As the source you quoted specifies, they have to be complex independent clauses to use a semicolon. – Especially Lime Feb 13 '17 at 11:38

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