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I am very confused about the use of semi-colon. I don't think I ever understood its usage even though I often feel the need for using it. How would I write the following sentence without confusing my readers?

My first version was:

The rain has fallen, exceeding the expected amount of 1% for location A, 2% for location B, and 3% for location C.

Then, I realised the first comma is somewhat different from the last two. I mean, the first comma marks the end of a valid sentence whereas the last two separate items in a list. So, I thought of rewriting the sentence as it follows (note I replaced the first comma with semi-colon):

The rain has fallen; exceeding the expected amount of 1% for location A, 2% for location B, and 3% for location C.

Finally, I got confused and I am no longer sure which one should I use to express myself as intended. I have checked similar questions / answers, but I am still not sure. From this question, I feel like I can replace the semi-colon with a dash, but I don't really know much about the use of dash.

The rain has fallen - exceeding the expected amount of 1% for location A, 2% for location B, and 3% for location C.

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  • Commas all the way. The use of semicolons as commas for complex lists (i.e. lists with items that have internal commas) has support, but that's not the case here, so the semicolon version looks very wrong to me - it looks as if you're trying to separate two independent clauses, but the second clause is not independent. The dash looks ok, but I think the comma is fine.
    – cruthers
    Oct 20, 2021 at 1:27
  • The semicolon is used to separate independent (but related) clauses. "I remember every detail. The Germans wore gray. You wore blue." Could also be: "I remember every detail; the Germans wore gray and you wore blue." Since "exceeding the expected amount..." is not an independent clause, it cannot be separated by a semicolon.
    – rajah9
    Oct 20, 2021 at 1:30
  • Thank you both. It becomes clearer than it was before :). Can one of you convert these comments into an answer? then, I can accept the answer.
    – Liman
    Oct 20, 2021 at 1:40
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    Sure, see below.
    – cruthers
    Oct 20, 2021 at 2:38
  • Consult Dickens, learn from the master.
    – A rural reader
    Oct 20, 2021 at 2:38

1 Answer 1

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I recommend using the version with commas.

Typically semicolons are used to set off independent clauses (a.k.a. main clauses) that have some relationship with another such that a full stop isn't desired. Another use of semicolons, to separate items in a complex list instead of commas (because the list includes items that themselves use commas), also has support, but that's not the case in your example. Here's a brief article from Lexico in support of the foregoing.

So, the semicolon version looks very wrong to me - it looks as if you're trying to separate two independent clauses, but the second clause is not independent. The dash is relatively versatile and your use of it in your final version looks ok, but I think the comma version is best.

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