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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:

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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.

  • 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:

  • 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.

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.

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:

  • 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:

  • 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:

  • Introduce a quotation

  • Introduce a list

    (The colon is used for these tasks!)

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.”

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:

  • 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:

  • 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!


  • 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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