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All You Need to Know about Colon And Semicolon: A No-nonsense Guide

Updated on October 26, 2016
Image courtesy: btr.michaelkwan.com
Image courtesy: btr.michaelkwan.com

Many people are not able to use a colon and semicolon properly. Though the rules for using them are rather easy, people often make mistakes.

I will discuss colon and semicolon separately. Then, I will compare the usages of both to give a clearer picture.

I request just to forget whatever you know about colon and semicolon for some moments. I promise, when you finish this hub, you will have crystal clear understanding of colon and semicolon.

Image Courtesy: http://www.wikihow.com/
Image Courtesy: http://www.wikihow.com/

Colon

Before we dig deeper when to use a colon, we will look into how to use it properly.

The colon is never preceded by a white space, and it is always followed by a single white space. Most importantly, it is never followed by a hyphen or a dash.

A colon is always preceded by a complete sentence, and colon may be or may not be followed by a complete sentence. Sometimes, it is just followed by a mere list or a single word.

In American English, a colon is followed by a capital letter, while the British prefer small letter after a colon.

So, up till now, we have talked about how to use a colon. Now comes the point when to use it.

The colon is used to tell what follows. Putting it in another way, what we write after a colon is the explanation of what precedes it.

More general: More specific.

Examples:

  • India is facing a terrifying problem: Perpetual corruption.

Here colon explains what the problem is.

  • Many friends helped me in my bad time: Rahul, Prabhu, and, above all, Dushyant.

Here colon identifies the friends in question.

Other uses of the colon include writing ratios and separating hours from minutes.

Image courtesy: www.scoutiegirl.com
Image courtesy: www.scoutiegirl.com

Semicolon

The semicolon (;) has one major use that is to join two complete sentences into a single written sentence when below mentioned three conditions are met:

  • The two sentences are felt to be so close that separating them will be illogical.
  • There is no connecting word which would require a comma such as 'and' or 'but'
  • Colon requirement is not there.

A semicolon can always be replaced either by a full stop or by the word 'and'. We will discuss it with the famous line by Dickens.

  • It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

As aforesaid, a semicolon can always be replaced either by a full stop or 'and'. The example might have been written:

  • It was the best of times, and it was the worst of times.
  • It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.

So here the use of the semicolon suggests that Dickens considered the two sentences more closely related.

One point must be taken into consideration that a semicolon is always preceded and followed by a complete sentence.Therefore, it would be wrong to write:

  • I don't like her; not at all.

If a suitable conjunction is used, one should place a comma rather than a semicolon. However, certain conjunctions need a preceding semicolon. They are however, therefore, hence, thus, consequently, meanwhile, and nevertheless.

  • Saturn was long thought to be the only ringed planet; however, this is now known not to be the case.

It must be noted that the word 'however' must be separated by a semicolon or a full stop from a preceding complete sentence.

There is one special circumstance in which a semicolon can be used to separate sequences that are not complete sentences. This happened when a sentence has many commas, and readers cannot follow it without some special marking. In such case, we sometimes use a semicolon rather than commas.

  • In India, where there are many castes and religions, it is difficult, how hard you try, to find one opinion, and people are usually divided, when it comes to finding the solution of a problem.

This sentence is perfectly punctuated, but the number of commas is somewhat clumsy. Let us place a semicolon in the middle of the sentence where there is a major break.

  • In India, where there are many castes and religions, it is difficult, how hard you try, to find one opinion; and people are usually divided, when it comes to finding the solution of a problem.

Such use of the semicolon as a kind of super-comma is not very good. It is good to avoid it, and rephrase the sentence if it is becoming bigger.

  • In India, where there are many castes and religions, it is difficult, how hard you try, to find one opinion. So, people are usually divided when it comes to finding the solution of a problem.

Image courtesy: www.grammarfactory.com
Image courtesy: www.grammarfactory.com

Comparison of Colon and Semicolon:

People find it difficult to decide, whether they should use a colon or semicolon. So, it will be helpful to contrast them.

Ram is sad.

Sita is restless.

The use of two separate sentences suggests that they don't have any connection.

  • Ram is sad: Sita is restless.

The use of colon suggests that Sita's restlessness is the reason of Ram's sadness.

  • Ram is sad; Sita is restless.

Here semicolon suggests that these two sentences are closely related. And the cause of Ram's sadness and Sita's restlessness is the same. Maybe, something terrible happened.

If you understand this example well, I'm certain, you will never use a colon and semicolon wrongly.

Thanks for reading. Do share your thoughts.

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    • sandeep15r profile image
      Author

      Sandeep Rathore 2 years ago from New Delhi

      Thanks Audrey Hunt!

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 2 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      At last! I finally understand the difference between a colon and a semicolon. ( Are these words capitalized?) :)

      Looking forward to reading your other hubs. I'm sharing this one.

    • sandeep15r profile image
      Author

      Sandeep Rathore 2 years ago from New Delhi

      Thanks, Claire-louise!

    • Claire-louise profile image

      Claire Raymond 2 years ago from UK

      Very informative! I have to admit that semi colons still fluster me a bit even now!

    • sandeep15r profile image
      Author

      Sandeep Rathore 2 years ago from New Delhi

      Thanks, Gary! I'm glad you liked it.

    • Gary Malmberg profile image

      Gary Malmberg 2 years ago from Concon, Chile

      I'm a grammar caveman, Sandeep. This hub is very helpful. Two thumbs yup.

    • sandeep15r profile image
      Author

      Sandeep Rathore 2 years ago from New Delhi

      You're very welcome, Doctor!

    • Dr Pran Rangan profile image

      Dr Pran Rangan 2 years ago from Kanpur (UP), India

      Sandeep, you have explained quite precisely the usage of Colon and Semicolon. I am sure I will never commit a mistake in using them. Thanks

    • sandeep15r profile image
      Author

      Sandeep Rathore 2 years ago from New Delhi

      Thanks De, for reading and sharing your thoughts. I'm glad you like it.

    • profile image

      Kamalika De 2 years ago

      Certainly a useful hub. Especially the comparison of colon and semicolon portion is quite interesting. Thanks Sandeep. Kudos to your great attempt.

    • sandeep15r profile image
      Author

      Sandeep Rathore 2 years ago from New Delhi

      Thanks!

    • profile image

      DebMartin 2 years ago

      Helpful.

    • sandeep15r profile image
      Author

      Sandeep Rathore 2 years ago from New Delhi

      Yes, Larry. They're, but not difficult to learn using them. Thanks for sharing a thought.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Two of the most commonly misunderstood punctuational in writing.

    • sandeep15r profile image
      Author

      Sandeep Rathore 2 years ago from New Delhi

      Thanks, annart!

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      Useful hub. You've made a good attempt to explain each one.

    • sandeep15r profile image
      Author

      Sandeep Rathore 2 years ago from New Delhi

      Thanks, Colin Garrow! It's really encouraging to hear that.

    • FatBoyThin profile image

      Colin Garrow 2 years ago from Kinneff, Scotland

      You know what? I think this is the first time I've actually understood the difference between the semicolon and the colon. Excellent explanation and great advice, Sandeep. Great Hub, voted up.

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