The Semicolon and Colon:
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The Semicolon and Colon: How to use them correctly and add elegance and pizzazz to your writing so as to impress your English teachers!. The semicolon functions in 2 different ways:. It connects two independent clauses (or complete sentences with subject + verb/predicate.

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The semicolon and colon

The Semicolon and Colon:

How to use them correctly and add elegance and pizzazz to your writing so as to impress your English teachers!


The semicolon functions in 2 different ways

The semicolon functions in 2 different ways:

  • It connects two independent clauses (or complete sentences with subject + verb/predicate.

  • In this function, the semicolon is like a subtle period.

  • The semicolon, when used correctly, can correct a comma splice (two independent clauses joined by a comma).


Examples of first function

Examples of first function:

  • I tell Alice everything; she’s my best friend.

  • Odysseus is a great hero; he conquers odds most of us would not even try to face.


The semicolon and colon

In the following samples, notice how the two clauses are linked by the semicolon, followed by a conjunctive adverb (however, thus, therefore, nevertheless, etc.)

  • Romeo feels responsible for his friend’s death; therefore, he must fight Tybalt.

  • I forgave her; yet, I wanted to borrow that shirt.

  • Jan always scores higher on the verbal section of tests; however, she prefers math to English and history.


The semicolon and colon

2. The other use for the semicolon is to separate items in a complicated series that already contains commas.

  • This function is not often used, but comes in handy every now and then.


Examples of second function

Examples of second function:

  • Dr. Dunn’s three favorite cities are Edinburgh, Scotland; San Francisco, California; and Venice, Italy.

  • My dad asked who you were; what you were doing in Boston; and why I wanted to go to that concert, three hours away.


More examples of correct semicolon usage

More Examples of Correct Semicolon Usage:

  • Suddenly it struck me; I was becoming my mother.

  • Strangely, we loved that tenement apartment; it was the place our life together began.

  • The movie we saw last week was great for the most part; however, it moved a little slowly in the middle.

  • The contestants for the pie-eating world championships came from Geneva, Switzerland; Hoboken, New Jersey; Sydney, Australia; and Montreal, Canada.


The semicolon is not used to

The semicolon is NOT used to:

  • Introduce a quotation

  • Introduce a list

    (The colon is used for these tasks!)


The colon can function in the following ways

The colon can function in the following ways:

  • To introduce a quotation:

  • Robert Frost’s narrator explains that he made the less popular choice: “I took the road less traveled by.”


The semicolon and colon

2. To introduce a list or an example:

  • The mugger took three things: his wallet, his watch, and his swimming medal.

  • Sam got good grades in three classes: math, English, and French.


Do not use the colon

DO NOT use the colon:

  • Between the subject and verb or subject complement:

    - My favorite sports are: football, soccer, and tennis.

  • Between a preposition and its object:

    - Henry has no fear of: heights, speed, or temperature extremes.

  • By placing it after for example, such as, including:

    - Carrie has visited several developing countries, such as: Guatemala, Haiti, and Somalia.

  • By placing it before a quotation that is not an independent clause:

    - By the end of the play, Macbeth sees all of life as merely: “a tale told by an idiot.”


Closing thoughts

Closing thoughts:

  • Do not overuse either the colon or the semicolon.

  • When used correctly, and sparingly, they add sophistication and elegance to your work and your writing will come across as fluid and refined.

  • Practice using both, but sparingly at first, until you gain confidence and become adept at including these punctuation marks in your writing.

  • Have fun and good luck!


Sources

Sources:

  • Hamilton, Sharon. Solving Common Writing Problems. Portland, Maine: J. Weston Walch, 2003.

  • Stein, Susan. Grammar, Mechanics, & Usage: A Comprehensive Guide to Usage and Style. Portland, Maine: J. Weston Walch, 1998.


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