How many times have we been confused about how, when and where to use colons and semi-colons in our writing? We know that they’re important, but goodness, their placement is just so confusing at times.
We’ve all been there. Sometimes we throw them in and move right along in our writing, in the hopes that readers won’t understand their placement, either. Our luck runs out when we get a review, and all the reviewer mentions is the ill placement of the colons and semi-colons we used.
No worries, because today I’m going to share just a few examples of how, when and where you should use those little brats. This is not an extensive post on the subject, but the few examples I’m sharing, should get you thinking in the right direction.
Just the way commas tell us where to pause, and periods tell us when to stop, colons and semi-colons function in similar fashion.
The most common use of the colon is to introduce lists, text, give emphasis on something, and present dialogue. Here we go!
- Here are my top five foods: macaroni and cheese, green smoothies, tamales, chicken salad, and popcorn. (Introducing a list of items.)
- I only wear one brand of sunglasses: Michael Kors. (Giving emphasis)
- Whenever I’m late to an event, I’m reminded of what my mother used to say: The early bird always gets the worm. (Presenting dialogue) (Do not use quotation marks when you are using a colon in this situation)
The most common use of the semicolon is to join two independent clauses without using conjunctions like for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so. (Use the mnemonic device FANBOYS to help you remember these). Semi-colons allow sentences in a paragraph to work as one sentence, separated by a semicolon and not harshly divided by a period. A very pleasant and easy way to use two sentences in one, wouldn’t you agree?
A semi-colon cannot be used to replace a comma or a period. Always remember where the semi-colon falls on the food chain: it should be regarded as stronger than a comma but not quite as divisive or final as a period.
Do not use a capital letter after a semicolon unless the word is a proper noun or acronym.
- Let’s go to the park this weekend; Sundays work best for me.
Remember, when you use a semi-colon, you are separating two complete sentences. Each sentence should be able to stand on its own (make sense) without the other, and the sentences should be closely related.
Examples of the correct use of the semi-colon and incorrect use of the semi-colon:
- CORRECT: My daughter coaches at the college; we get free tickets to all the athletic events!
- INCORRECT: My daughter coaches at the college; my car wouldn’t start when I went out this morning. (These two sentences are not related to each other at all).
This was just a small taste of how, when and where to use colons and semi-colons properly. If they confuse you, as they do to so many of us, I urge you to educate yourself more into their use. I find it so annoying when I’m reading a book and I see things like this…
- She rode her bike to school: when she got there it was closed. (Nope)
- I love the following genres; historical fiction, poetry, and action/adventure. (Nope again)
Correct these two sentences by switching the colon and semi-colon around in each sentence.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief lesson and I anxiously await your next read. I’m confident it will be swimming with properly placed colons and semi-colons getting along fabulously together!
Do you dislike colons and semi-colons like so many writers I know? We’d love to hear your thoughts down below.