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Understanding the Semicolon and Colon!

Updated on February 19, 2015

The most common punctuation marks in English are probably the period and the comma. Where a comma indicates a small break and the period provides complete interruption. However, good writing in English will usually make use of the colon and the semi-colon. Very few people have mastered the use of these two marks. If English needs to be written more effectively then use of the colon and semicolon is essential. Using colons too often can break the flow of writing.

So don’t go colon-crazy!

In recent years I’m so fond of semi colons; it’s amazing to use a semi colon than a period. The period states that it’s over otherwise it’s the end and now you have to move along. However with a semi colon it gives a feeling of expectancy and a sense of anticipation. Semicolons create more separation between thoughts than a comma does. Colons connect sentences where the second sentence encapsulates, refines, or describes the first sentence. It’s important that the first word following the colon should be lower-cased if the words after the colon form a dependent clause however if the phrase is an independent clause, it may be capitalized.

So what are semicolons and colons?

Semicolons (;) looks like a comma with a period above it, Semicolons are used to separate items in a list that use commas, to join two independent clauses, or to separate main clauses joined by a conjunctive adverb so we can certainly tell which idea belong to which clause. The semicolon helps the writer imply a connection between nicely composed thoughts without actually affirming that relationship.

Examples of Semicolons in a sentence:

  • I really like beef, with barbecue sauce; steak, with Alfredo sauce; and salad, with French dressing.
  • Joanna drives a Jaguar; Michelle drives a Porsche.
  • Mom wants the chores finished; moreover she wants them done aptly.
  • Jack had friends from Santiago, Chile; Lima, Peru; and Caracas, Venezuela.
  • Lean calls it football; Ryan calls it soccer.

Colons (:) - Consider the colon as a gateway, inviting one to go on, they are used in sentences to introduce that something trails like a quotes / quotation, instance/ example or a list/series, noun phrase., to express time in titles etc.

Examples of a Colon in a sentence:

  • There are two choices at this time: run away or fight.
  • He kept repeating: “I really want that bike!”
  • He wanted to see three cities in UK: London, England and Ireland.
  • Never forget this point: Never react to a situation, respond to it.
  • These are my favourite colours: blue, turquoise, pink and burgundy.

Consider the example:

Some schoolgirls used the free time in class to talk with their friends; others worked quietly.

This sentence creates an error known as comma splice as comma is used instead of a semi colon. A comma would be accurate if all the important coordinating conjunction were present, like:

Some schoolgirls used the free time in class to talk with their friends, but others worked quietly.

Remain as consistent as possible in choosing the right punctuation mark for bringing effective meaning to the sentence. It can be difficult at times to determine whether the two clauses are simply related, justifying a semicolon, or signify an array of thought, justifying a colon. Semicolons are like a glass of champagne save them for special events, just scatter them throughout the writing.


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