We all use colons and semicolons incorrectly sometimes. They’re incredibly easy to confuse or use at the wrong time, especially when you’re trying to ‘spice up’ your writing by throwing in something more exciting than a comma or a full stop. Here’s some quick examples to help you with their use.
The colon is used to introduce extra information related to the first part of the sentence.
There are lots of ways to use a colon:
- To make a bulleted/numbered list (see?)
- Or to make a list in the sentence, e.g. “Before you begin writing, make sure you have: a pen, some paper, a snack, and a glass of wine (for inspiration).”
- To define a word or phrase. “Facebook: a website I spend way too much time on when I should be writing my essay.”
- To explain a statement. “I don’t trust him: his eyes are too close together.”
- To introduce a quotation or reported speech. “As Mr Trump said: ‘We’re gonna win so much, you may even get tired of winning!'”
The semicolon joins together two clauses that could be written as separate sentences. It can help you vary the lengths of your sentences and make your writing more interesting for your readers.
Here’s a few ways to use the semicolon:
- To join two sentences together, e.g. “She was pretending not to know what I meant; however, I wasn’t fooled.”
- As a replacement for ‘and’. “I like the green one; he likes the blue.”
- In the place of commas in a long or complicated list. “We visited lots of great places in New York: Central Park; the Statue of Liberty; the Empire State Building; and the Natural History Museum, just to name a few.”
- To create a ‘pause’ that is longer than a comma but shorter than a full stop (extremely useful in poetry).