When to use Colon and Semicolon?


A colon introduces a piece (or a set of elements) that exemplifies or expands on the information that came before it. While a semicolon is used to indicate a close relationship between two independent clauses, a colon is used to direct you to the material after it.

Many people are perplexed by the use of colons, although their purpose is actually fairly simple. Consider it a flashing arrow pointing to the information that follows. A colon usually creates the silent sense of "as follows," "which is/are," or "thus" when it appears in a sentence.

There are three types of muscle in the body: cardiac, smooth, and skeletal.

The colon in this line indicates that you are about to discover the names of the three muscle kinds stated in the previous sentence. This is how we could silently read the sentence.

In the human body, there are three types of muscle: cardiac, smooth, and skeletal.

As shown in the example above, colons are frequently used with lists. They can also be used to indicate that further information is needed.

Here, we have two choices: stay and fight or flee like the wind.

This might be quietly interpreted as:

We have two choices (which are as follows): stay and fight or flee like the wind.

A quote can also be introduced with a colon:

He closed with Neil Young's legendary words: "Rock & Roll can never die."

Colons Separating Independent Clauses

When the second sentence is closely connected to the first clause (not simply loosely related) and the focus is on the second clause, a colon can be used to divide two distinct clauses. While a semicolon or a period can be used between two separates but connected clauses, the colon is softer than the period but firmer than the semicolon.

A dolphin is not fish: it is a warm-blooded mammal.

The research is conclusive: climate change is a reality.

Unless it's a proper name or an acronym, the word after a colon in British English isn't capitalized. Although there are many patterns in American English, it is recommended to capitalize the first word after a colon if the following words create two or more full sentences.

I have several plans for my immediate future: First, I’m going to win the lottery. Second, I’m going to buy a unicorn. Third, I will marry Brad Pitt.

Misuse of Colons

There should be no colon between a noun and its verb, a verb and its object or subject complement, a preposition and its object, or a subject and its predicate.

Here's an example of one of our previous statements redone improperly.

The three types of muscle in the body are: cardiac, smooth, and skeletal.

The comma here divides the verb are from its subject complements (cardiac, smooth, and skeletal).

When I graduate, I want to go to: Rome, Israel, and Egypt.

The colon in this phrase should be eliminated since it divides the preposition to and its objects (Rome, Israel, and Egypt). The colon should be eliminated from this statement in order to write it correctly.

When I graduate, I want to go to Rome, Israel, and Egypt.


What Is a Semicolon?

Semicolons (;) are just two periods piled on top of each other. Does this imply that you can utilize it in any of these ways? Don't get too excited. But don't be discouraged by this punctuation mark.

How to Use a Semicolon Correctly

The semicolon is most commonly used to connect two separate clauses without the use of a conjunction like and.

After a semicolon, do you use a capital letter? The broad consensus is that the answer is no. Only if the term is a proper noun or an acronym should a semicolon be followed by a capital letter.

We can go to the museum to do some research; Mondays are pretty quiet there.

Semicolons, unlike commas and periods, are not interchangeable. Instead, they're in the middle: more powerful than a comma but not as contentious as a period. We think it's very clever.

Here are the guidelines for appropriately employing semicolons; we hope you're taking notes.

1. Semicolons Connect Related Independent Clauses

A semicolon can be used to connect two separate sentences that are closely linked. To put it another way, let's say this: The words immediately preceding the semicolon should make a whole sentence, and the words immediately after the semicolon should form a complete sentence, with the two phrases sharing a close, logical connection:

I ordered a cheeseburger for lunch; life’s too short for counting calories.

Money is the root of all evil; I don’t believe the reverse is necessarily true.

Martha has gone to the library; Andrew has gone to play soccer.

It's worth noting that the letter after the semicolon isn't capitalized. Both of the above instances are made up of two complete, grammatically valid phrases that have been glued together. Yes, there are six whole phrases up there, with just two capital letters owing to the semicolon. That is why a comma cannot be used in place of a semicolon. A comma splice occurs when a comma is used instead of a semicolon in the phrases above. Nothing is more irritating than a comma splice.

2. Delete the Conjunction When You Use a Semicolon

A semicolon isn't the sole way to connect two separate sentences. Conjunctions (your hands, buts, and ors) can also be used in this way. However, a semicolon and a conjunction should not be used together. That is to say, you use a semicolon instead of ands, buts, and ors; you do not require both. Consider the period (the upper portion of the semicolon) as a substitute for the "and" if you used a comma and a "and" to connect two related thoughts.

I saw a magnificent albatross, and it was eating a mouse.

I saw a magnificent albatross; it was eating a mouse

To avoid a comma splice, you'll need a comma plus something. The proper conjunction or the period that converts a comma to a semicolon might be that something. If semicolons can connect independent clauses that would otherwise be separated by a period or a conjunction, they can also show contrast. This is part of the same rule, except instead of "and," the conjunction in question is "but." To put it another way:

This is part of the same rule; the conjunction in question is “but” instead of “and.”

To recapitulate, a semicolon connects two related concepts by bridging the gap between the ideas of two different sentences or by replacing a conjunction. That also applies to demonstrating contrast: just because two concepts are opposed or conflicting doesn't imply, they aren't connected closely enough to warrant a semicolon.

3. Use Semicolons in a Serial List

If the items in a list are extensive or include internal punctuation, semicolons can be used to split them. The semicolon aids readers in keeping track of the divisions between the components in these circumstances.

I need the weather statistics for the following cities: London, England; London, Ontario; Paris, France; Paris, Ontario; Perth, Scotland; Perth, Ontario.

My plan included taking him to a nice—though not necessarily expensive—dinner; going to the park to look at the stars, which, by the way, are amazing this time of year; and serenading him with my accordion.

Let's review: semicolons are used to connect two separate sentences; they may also be used to replace a conjunction (whether it shows similarity, like "and," or opposition, like "but"); and they can be used to create lengthy, comma-loving lists. Yes, it was the one.

4. Use Semicolons with Conjunctive Adverbs

A semicolon should be used when a conjunctive adverb connects two separate sentences. Furthermore, nonetheless, although, otherwise, therefore, then, eventually, likewise, and therefore are some frequent conjunctive adverbs.

I needed to go for a walk and get some fresh air; also, I needed to buy milk.

Reports of the damage caused by the hurricane were greatly exaggerated; indeed, the storm was not a “hurricane” at all.

The students had been advised against walking alone at night; however, Cathy decided walking wasn’t dangerous if it was early in the evening.

I’m not all that fond of the colors of tiger lilies; moreover, they don’t smell very good.

Because these words can appear in other sections of a phrase, the semicolon rule only applies when the conjunctive adverb is used to unite two separate clauses. (Did you catch what we did there?) The conjunction rule is comparable to the conjunctive adverb rule. Check that the two concepts are separate clauses that might stand alone as sentences in both circumstances. If that's the case, you're good to go when it comes to the semicolon.