Welcome to the fifth post in the series: Punctuation For Beginners.
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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