Welcome to the fifth post in the series: Punctuation For Beginners. This post is all about colons and semicolons.
Punctuation is the name for the marks we use in writing. Punctuation marks are tools that have set functions. We use them to give a sentence meaning and rhythm.
(Look out for the punctuation posts every Tuesday. Sign up for our newsletter to get our Daily Writing Links, and you won’t miss out.)
Today, I will be writing about colons and semicolons.
What is a colon?
A colon is a punctuation mark (:) “used to precede a list of items, a quotation, or an expansion or explanation”.
- Indicates that a list will follow. Example: These are the ingredients for the cake: flour, eggs, sugar, milk, and coconut.
- Is used between two main clauses (clauses that could stand alone as sentences). It indicates that an idea, or an explanation, will follow. Example: There is one thing that separates writers from talkers: writers write.
- Indicates dialogue. Example: Harry said: ‘Bring them home safely.’
- Indicates a quotation. Example: Freud once said: ‘There is nothing wrong with blaming your mother.’
- Is used to express time. Example: The meeting began at 15:00.
- Is used with sub-titles. Example: Space: The Final Frontier
What is a semicolon?
A semicolon is a punctuation mark (;) “indicating a pause, typically between two main clauses, that is more pronounced than that indicated by a comma”.
- Is a long pause that balances two related ideas. Example: She went by train; she would rather have flown.
- Adjoins two main clauses containing opposite ideas. Example: She is efficient; he is disorganised.
- Adjoins two main clauses where there is no conjunction. Example: My laptop is broken; I can’t transmit the document.
- Can separate items in a list when the items already contain commas. Example: Attendees included the CEO, Jeff Davis and his son, Tristan; the MD, Fred Khumalo, and his wife, Susan; and Harriet and Khosi from the PR agency.
- May be replaced by a full stop or by the conjunctions: and, but, so, for, although.
Semicolons are often seen to be old-fashioned and unnecessary, especially in fiction. As Kurt Vonnegut said: “Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.”
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