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The semicolon, or el punto y coma in Spanish, is used and misused in Spanish much as it is in English. However, the rules for its application in Spanish can be more subjective than for the other punctuation symbols (signos de puntuación) and lead to a larger range of common mistakes.
Still, there are two main utilities of the semicolon when writing in Spanish: joining independent clauses or detailing a list of items with multiple names in each section of the list - in both of these cases, the semicolon acts much as it does in standard English, separating thoughts into a neat, organized form.
Be aware t;hat the punto y coma is invariable between singular and plural. In other words, the plural of el punto y coma is los punto y coma. You can also use los signos de punto y coma as a plural form.
Using Semicolons Instead of Periods
As its Spanish name suggests punto y coma means "period and comma," which emphasizes its primary use as being to represent a break between independent clauses (a part of a sentence that could stand alone because it has a subject and verb) that is stronger than what a comma would stand for but weaker than what a period would stand for; the two clauses should be connected as part of a thought or relate to each other.
Note in these examples that separating the clauses with periods would not be wrong, but the use of a semicolon suggests a stronger relationship between the two clauses than making them into separate sentences would:
- Cuando estoy en casa, me llamo Roberto; cuando trabajo, me llamo Sr. Smith. (When I'm at home, I'm Robert; when I'm working, I'm Mr. Smith.)
- Esta tarde vamos a la playa; los museos están cerrados. (This afternoon we are going to the beach; the museums are closed.)
- En 1917, se inauguró la Estación de la Sabana; ésta funcionó como punto central del sistema férreo nacional. (In 1917, the Sabana Station was put in service; it functioned as the center of the national railway system.)
If the clauses are especially short, a comma is preferred in Spanish, such is the case with the sentence "Te quiero, eres perfecto" or (I love you, you're perfect), where it is grammatically acceptable to separate these two short ideas into one cohesive sentence.
Using Semicolons in Lists
Another use for the semicolon is in lists when at least one of the items in the list has a comma, as in English. In this way, the semicolon functions as kind of a "supercomma." In the first example, the semicolons act as separators in the list of countries with deceased populations to provide clarity to the sentence structure.
- Encabezan la lista de los países americanos con más decesos Brasil y Colombia con seis cada uno; México con tres; y Cuba, El Salvador y Estados Unidos con dos. (Leading the list of American countries with the most deceased are Brazil and Colombia with six apiece; Mexico with three; and Cuba, El Salvador and the United States with two.)
- Los nominados son El ángel, Argentina; La noche de 12 años, Uruguay; Los perros, Chile; y Roma, México. (The nominees are The Angel, Argentina; 12-Year Night, Uruguay; The Dogs, Chile; and Roma, Mexico.)
- Mis parientes este verano viajan a todos lugares: mi madre, a Santiago; mi padre, a Sevilla; mi hermano, a Nueva York; y mi hija, a Bogotá. (My relatives are traveling everywhere this summer: my mother, to Santiago; my father, to Seville; my brother, to New York; and my daughter, to Bogota.
Semicolons can also be used in vertical lists at the end of each item other than the final one, such is the case with the following. Although the English example uses periods, commas (but not semicolons) can also be used in English:
"Tenemos tres metas:
- aprender mucho;
- vivir con autentididad."
(We have three goals:
-To learn a lot.
-To love each other.
-To live authentically.)
- Semicolons in Spanish are used much as they are in English, as a punctuation mark that combines uses of the period and the comma.
- One common use of semicolons is show a connection in meaning between two clauses that would otherwise be made into separate sentences.
- Another common use of semicolons is to provide clarity in lists.