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Colons vs Semicolons
Do Not Confuse Colons and SemicolonsWriters are often confused over colons and semicolons. Their names might suggest they're similar, but colons and semicolons have very different functions.
In general terms, a colon functions like an "equals sign," and a semicolon functions either like a "half period" ("half full stop") or a heavy comma. For example:
- I saw just one person: Jack. (Here, "one person" equals "Jack." So, the colon is like an equals sign.)
- I know it is true; I saw it happen. (The semicolon is like a half period. It divides two "sentences" like a period, but less abruptly.)
- I know Jack, the baker; Jill, the lawyer; and Tony, the accountant. (The semicolons are like heavy commas. They divide the list items, which themselves contain commas.)
Table of Contents
- How to Use a Colon
- How to Use a Semicolon
- Printable Test
How to Use a Colon
A colon has four functions:
(1) To expand on something already mentioned in the sentence
- He blamed his divorce on one thing: beer. (A colon is like an equals sign. In this example, "one thing" equals "beer.")
- His fingerprints were found in two rooms: the kitchen and the bedroom. (In this example, "two rooms" equals "the kitchen and the bedroom.")
(2) After an introduction
- During the inspection, I saw the following: a dead rat, a live rat, dozens of cockroaches, and countless ants. (When a colon is used after an introduction, it is often bullet points that follow.)
(3) In references, times, and titles
- Read Genesis 1:1 before 07:30.
(4) With quotations
- He said: "Curiosity killed the cat, but for a while I was a suspect."
How to Use a Semicolon
A semicolon has three functions:
(1) To create a smoother transition between "sentences," particularly when the second starts with a phrase like "however" or "as a result"
- In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock. (President Thomas Jefferson)
- The wind was creating waves up to three feet high; as a result, we had to cancel the swim.
(2) In lists when the list items contain commas
- Simon, the officer in charge; Daniel, the guide; and Ollie, the cameraman
(3) Before a conjunction that merges two "sentences" (i.e., independent clauses) containing commas
- Rather surprisingly, the majestic pike is hardly used in cooking today; but in Victorian times, pastry-topped pike was a very common dish. (Using a semicolon to outrank the commas in the independent clauses is an outdated practice.)
A List of Lessons about ColonsHere is a list of Grammar Monster lessons about colons:
- More detail about using colons (all functions)
- Colons before bullet points
- Colons before quotations
- Colons in references
- Colons for introductions
A List of Lessons about SemicolonsHere is a list of Grammar Monster lessons about semicolons:
- More detail about using semicolons (all functions)
- Semicolons before words Like "however" and "consequently"
- Semicolons in lists
- Semicolons before words Like "and" and "but"
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