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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:

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.
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
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.”
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!
  • 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.