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Correct Use of Semi-colons and Colons

Updated on June 3, 2015

The Colon (:)

When to use a colon:

  • When a list follows an independent clause

Ex. We visited some beautiful cities on our road trip: San Antonio, New Orleans, and San Francisco.

  • When an independent clause is followed by an example, explanation, or conclusion.

Ex. I thought long and I thought hard: things would never be the same again.

  • After a Salutation (formal letter usually)

Ex. To Whom it May Concern:

  • In a business memo or E-mail headers

Ex. To:

RE:

  • In a title separating a clause from a explanation, statement, or elaboration.

Ex) Angela's Ashes: A Memoir

  • In a bibliography between the city of publication and the publishing house

Ex. London: Oxford Press

The Semi-Colon (;)

When to use a Semi-colon;

  • To Join independent clauses (usually) without using conjunctions such as and, or, but, or so.

Ex. The North won the Civil War; therefore the union was preserved

  • To separate items in a list that is already using commas.

Ex. Every talking head on every station was covering the government shutdown; Chris Matthews, MSNBC, Bill O'Reilly, Fox "News", and Anderson Cooper, CNN.

  • In place of a coma to avoid confusion in separating two independent clauses joined by a conjunction.

Ex. The Achaean heroes were Odysseus, Achilles, and Agamemnon; and together they would find a way to conquer Troy.

Hope this helps

Of all grammatical mistake the most common ones involve the usage of colons and semi-colons. The above is a fairly exhaustive list of when the use of each is appropriate. I hope this quick reference is found useful by someone. Please leave any further questions in the comments section. Happy writing!!

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