When To Use The Colon And The Semicolon

Colon and semicolon – Punctuation marks

The punctuation mark colon (:) is almost always used after a complete sentence. Its function is to indicate that what follows is an explanation or elaboration of what precedes.

  • We decided not to go on holiday: we had too little money.
  • Mother may have to go into hospital: she has got kidney trouble.
  • I decided to buy some clothes: I had nothing to wear.
  • She decided to stay at home: it was raining.

A colon is used when famous sayings are quoted.

In the words of Murphy’s Law: ‘Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.’
Solomon says: ‘Of the making of books there is no end.’

A colon can introduce a list.

  • We need three kinds of support: economic, moral and political.
  • These are the things we have to take with us: a flask of tea, some biscuits, sandwiches and fruit.
  • The poets I like best are: Milton, Wordsworth, Shelly and Keats.

A colon is never preceded by a white space, and it is never followed by a dash or a hyphen.

In British English, it is unusual for a capital letter to follow a colon (except at the beginning of a quotation). However, this can happen if a colon is followed by several complete sentences.

In American English, colons are more often followed by capital letters.

Semicolon

Semicolons (;) are sometimes used instead of full stops, in cases where sentences are grammatically independent but the meaning is closely connected.

  • Some people work best in the mornings; others do better in the evenings.
  • Women’s conversation is cooperative; men’s is competitive.
  • The Hobbit was published in 1937; the first volume of The Lord of the Rings followed in 1954.
  • Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; writing an exact man.
  • Some are born great; some achieve greatness; some have greatness thrust upon them.

Commas are not usually possible in cases like these.

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