Semicolons don’t show up very often. The truth is, a writer can word sentences in such a way that he never has to use them. However, they add variety and really serve as a short cut.
Chicago Manual of Style says the semicolon is half way between a comma (indicating a pause) and a period (indicating a full stop), but more nearly like a period. I thought that was helpful.
The most common use of a semicolon is in compound sentences, in place of a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or) between the two independent clauses. (See Punctuation Pitfalls – The Comma, Part 2 for a review of compound sentences and independent clauses.) Here are a few examples:
The disruptive player was kicked out of the game; in his place the coach inserted a little-used freshman.
The writer plans to go on tour; however, she is waiting to receive confirmation of the schedule.
Semicolons are also used in compound sentences when the independent clause has internal punctuation. (Too many commas confuse the reader). An example:
The girls agreed to see a movie; but the guys wanted to watch TV, shoot hoops, or take a nap instead.
Handy marks, these semicolons. Don’t be afraid to use them. 😀