RLA 101: What is a semicolon?

The semicolon may not be as complicated as you may think; it’s simply misunderstood and often misused by students during the RLA test. In short, a semicolon is a mashup between a comma and a period. Comma + period = semicolon. 

Surprised face
Parks and Recreation

Yep, it’s that simple but let’s talk more about how and when to use it.  

The period:

A period is more definitive. It marks the end of a sentence, while a semicolon is more like a long pause, and then the sentence keeps going.   

Think of a semicolon like a stop sign and a period like a red light.  


If you’re reading out loud (or driving), you would make a brief stop when you get to a semicolon (or stop sign). This pause is not as long as what you would do when you see a period at the end of a sentence (or a stoplight).  

After a period, you could start a new paragraph; with a semicolon, you can’t make such a leap. 


  • Mark saw a dog driving a blue car down the street; he believed the dog was alone in the car. [semicolon] 
  • Mark saw a dog driving a blue car down the street. He is concerned about the dog and the other drivers on the road[period] 

The Comma:

A comma separates clauses along with a conjunction such as “but” and “or.” A semicolon separates two main clauses; they are often complete enough to stand on their own but are part of the same thought.  

High Five
SpongeBob SquarePants

We’ll leave Bikini Bottom and go back to the traffic light analogy for a moment. comma indicates a short pause and functions similar to a yellow light, telling you to slow down as you read. A semicolon would still cause you to stop briefly, like at a stop sign.  

Stop Sign
Hey Arnold

When you read with a comma in your sentence, you keep going despite taking a quick pause.  


  • Eugene is excited about his new bike, but he doesn’t know how to ride it. [comma] 
  • Arnold and Gerald are watching Eugene leave on his bike; they all just noticed the stop sign right ahead. [semicolon]

While our dear friend Eugene learns the importance of his brakes and stop signs, we can share one additional option you can use when pausing in a sentence.   


Attention, everyone.
SpongeBob SquarePants

The Colon:

Not that coloneven though it is important for bodily functions and deserves an honorable mention, we’re talking about the one that can start a list or clarify a command.  


  • Your GED can help you do many things once you graduate: go to college, get a new job, and impress all your friends. [colon] 
  • Keep studying: we know you’ll do great! [colon]

That’s it for us, but we hope you’re as excited about English grammar as we are! 

Thumbs Up

If you want to learn more, we have study guides, interactive tools, and practice tests in your student account at GED.com.

Danielle W. Communications Manager. Word nerd. Middle-school spelling bee champ. Cupcake connoisseur.


  1. I am looking forward to finally getting my GED. The last time that I took my test I passed everthing except for the math portion. I ran out of time. During the time I wanted to take the Math test. It had been changed. Everyone had to have passed before the new test on the computers was implemented. However they said all the test sites were full when I called city to city. I even tried reserving a spot to test. I was so disappointed. I was not able to test before the deadline. I later was told by certain schools that they had openings;by thanit was to late. I had to take all parts of the test over. It has been a challenge for me to take the test do to me putting my family needs before my own and also having a busy work schedule . I had to provide for my family. There was no time available in the day for me to pursue my goal to complete what I started. This is something I must have . I took the college placement test at T.C.C and scored at college leave In each subject. However there new rules are that you must have your GED before enrollment. They use to have ot set up where you had to have your GED before graduation date. As you can see I am really working on getting . I would like to focuse on my Math and English. I really would like to earn a high score all areas of the test!!!

    1. Wow Erica. I am just a teacher here looking for videos to share with a student, but I am SO SORRY that this happened to you. Ugh. How completely frustrating.

  2. which word processing program can I use that closely mirrors what is on the GED test? My students are using the latest version of word an when they get in to test they are confused because it is so much different, they get confused and lost and can’t finish that part.

    1. Hi Tony! It’s very important to prepare for the test by becoming comfortable with the test functionality. While teaching students to use Word is great for real life, the GED test driver is different from Word. This is why it’s important to get students to practice with the tutorial. There is a section in the tutorial that has students walk through and practice with the onscreen tools for the Extended Response. Tutorials, find them here: https://ged.com/educators_admins/teaching/classroom_materials/

      Additionally, the Free Practice Tests are useful to not only practice with the onscreen functionality but also become familiar with some test content, answer questions and then check if they answered correctly by checking in the “Answer Explanations” at the top left corner of the test question. Free Practice Test, find them here: https://ged.com/study/free_online_ged_test/

      Finally, there are a series of videos in the students account in the RLA section that show a video about the format of the Extended Response and 8 more videos that teach how to write a good Extended Response. Find the video on YouTube too: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=56_VO5HsjyY. Look inside the student’s account for all the videos. Look at the bottom of the Educators and Administrators page for the 8 videos.
      Find them here: https://ged.com/educators_admins/teaching/classroom_materials/

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