Colons and Semicolons: Table of Contents
Colons vs. Semicolons
Have you searched high and low for a clear answer on the difference between colons and semicolons, but are still unsure how to use them correctly? Well, you’ve come to the right place!
This blog post will explain everything as simply and straightforwardly as possible, so you can finally learn how to use colons and semicolons properly in your writing. But how will we do that? First, we’ll briefly review what independent clauses are, which are necessary to understand if you want to use semicolons correctly.
Then, we’ll provide easy explanations along with examples to show you how to use colons and semicolons once and for all!
Let’s get started.
Understanding Independent Clauses
If you would like to learn when to use semicolons instead of colons, you must know what independent clauses are.
An independent clause is a group of words that contains a subject and a verb and can stand alone as a complete sentence. It makes sense on its own and does not require another clause.
Independent clauses don’t need any other clauses to make sense.
But why is this important to know?
Because if you’re trying to link independent clauses to show a close connection between them, then you should use a semicolon, not a colon. We’ll elaborate below.
How To Use a Semicolon in a Sentence
A semicolon creates a pause that’s longer than a comma, but not as strong as the complete pause of a period. It can be used to show a connection between independent clauses or to separate items in a series that contains other punctuation.
A semicolon is a punctuation mark that looks like a period (dot) with a comma under it.
1. Use Semicolons to Show a Connection Between Independent Clauses
A semicolon can show a close connection between related ideas.
He loves to play the piano; it’s his favorite instrument.
My daughter loves eating pizza; she asks for it every day.
We enjoyed our time at the park; it was a beautiful day.
It’s Jeremiah’s birthday today; we’re celebrating at the beach.
Cooking is my passion; I especially love to cook for my family.
In the examples above, the clauses before and after the semicolon can stand alone as complete sentences. However, the semicolon is used to show that they are closely related.
2. Use Semicolons To Separate Items in a Series That Contains Other Punctuation
Typically, commas are used to separate items in a series.
Karen, Mary, and Jack all played extraordinarily well in today’s game.
But if the series contains several punctuations, it may be hard to follow.
Many players did well in today’s game, including Mary, who is the team captain, John, the goalkeeper, and Sarah, who is the defender.
A semicolon makes the sentence easier to understand.
Many players did well in today’s game; Mary, the team captain; John, the goalkeeper; and Sarah, the defender.
Keep in mind that when separating a dependent (or subordinate) clause from an independent clause, you should use a comma instead of a semicolon.
The technology allows students to use one application to apply to several schools; thus streamlining the application process.
The technology allows students to use one application to apply to several schools, thus streamlining the application process.
How To Use a Colon in a Sentence
So, we’ve covered how to correctly use semicolons; we’re halfway through! Now, let’s go over how to use colons in a sentence.
A colon looks like one period (dot) on top of another.
Colons have a few different uses, which we’ll explain below.
1. Use a colon to introduce an explanation or example.
My best friend has a 150-pound dog: a mastiff from the Canary Islands called a Presa Canario, which is often used as a guard dog, but can also be trained to herd cattle and sheep.
I have one dish that I enjoy making the most: mushroom risotto.
In the examples above, the clauses that come after the colon cannot stand on their own. In other words, they’re dependent clauses. However, if they were independent clauses, it would be best to use a semicolon (in most cases).
2. Use a colon to introduce a list or a quotation.
Next year I will be traveling to three different countries: Egypt, Brazil, and Japan.
Before he left, my tutor left me with some words of wisdom: “It’s better to be alone while standing for the truth, than to go along with a lie just to fit in with a group.”
Colons can also precede bulleted lists.
Additionally, it’s important to know that it’s also common for a comma to precede a quote. So, how do you decide when to use a comma or colon?
If the sentence that precedes the quota can stand alone (as in the example above), you can use a colon. If it can’t stand on its own, use a comma.
Before he left, he said, “It’s better to be alone while standing for the truth, than to go along with a lie just to fit in with a group.”
3. Use a colon to separate elements
Hours, minutes, and seconds: 6:00 PM
Bible Verses: Matthew 6:19
Titles and Subtitles: Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proved Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones
Do not use a colon to separate a verb from the object or complement of the sentence (unless, of course, the object is a quotation).
She enjoys: cooking, reading, and writing.
She enjoys cooking, reading, and writing.
Moreover, do not put a colon between a preposition and its object, or after phrases like including or such as.
My dog was roaming happily in: the field of tall grass.
My dog was roaming happily in the field of tall grass.
She has many hobbies, including: going to the park and sleeping all day.
She has many hobbies, including going to the parking and sleeping all day.
Colon vs. Semicolon: Brief Summary
Voilà! Now you know how to use colons and semicolons correctly. We covered a lot, so here’s a helpful summary:
- Use semicolons to convey a close relationship between independent clauses.
- Semicolons can introduce a series that contains other punctuation.
- Use colons to present an explanation, example, list, or quotation.
- Colons are also used to separate elements, like the hours, minutes, and seconds.
As long as you keep those points in mind, you’ll be able to use colons and semicolons correctly in your writing.
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