Let's sort out the semicolon, the most feared punctuation mark of all.
This was a mistake. I just needed to learn the rules.
To understand the use of the semicolon, you must first understand the definition of the term independent clause, so let's do a quick run down on what an independent clause is.
An independent clause is a group of words that forms a complete sentence (a complete sentence must have both a subject and a verb) and makes sense on its own (else you have a dependent clause, which is a group of words that has both a subject and a verb but that does not make sense on its own). The sentence The dog ran is an independent clause, because there is both a subject (dog) and a verb (ran) and it makes sense on its own.
(Okay, if we're going to be fussy, the word the in our example sentence is an article [a special kind of adjective] and is used, in this case restrictively, to introduce our noun as is the task of an article. There are many more things we could say about articles, of course, but we will leave it at that for this post. For now, all that matters is that you understand what an independent clause is.)
I know what you're thinking: That's great, Ellie, but what do stupid independent clauses have to do with semicolons? Why, I'm glad you asked.
Rule Number One: The semicolon is the appropriate punctuation mark to use when you are joining two or more independent clauses. The dog ran; the dog fell; the dog got up. Here we have three independent clauses all attached together in one (terribly witty) sentence connected with semicolons.
(NOTE: If you wish, you can do away with these semicolons by incorporating a few coordinating conjunctions [for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so] in place of the semicolons: The dog ran and the dog fell but the dog got up.)
Rule Number Two: A semicolon is appropriate when putting together two independent clauses that have been joined with a transitional word: The dog ran but the dog fell; however, a squirrel was nearby so the dog got up.
Rule Number Three: A semicolon is used to separate a series of phrases or clauses in which internal punctuation already exists: The dog loves to chase the letter carrier, the paper delivery person, and strangers; he loves to bark at squirrels, birds, and other dogs; and he loves to dig in the garden, on the lawn, and under the tree.
Rule Number Four: A semicolon is the mark of choice before words such as for example, for instance, and namely when these words are used to introduce a list or example: The dog chases almost everyone; namely the letter carrier, the paper delivery person, and anyone else who walks past our house too slowly.
The semicolon is kind of like the lone goth chick that sat in the back of your eleventh grade homeroom class and did nothing but carve her initials into the desktop and draw pictures of dead birds in her textbook. The semicolon may look scary, but in reality it's just misunderstood.