Where to Use Colon and Semicolon

Not everyone understands the importance of using the right punctuation during writing. Just like with speaking, where the use of intonation helps your listeners understand you better. That’s what these symbols do to your writing. They help you communicate your writing to readers.

People rarely have issues using the full stop, comma, bracket, exclamation, and basic punctuation. But the use of colon and semicolon has proven to be the most difficult of all. Let’s help you understand where and how to use them better. (Also read the golden rules of punctuation)

Understanding the Colon

The colon, in a nutshell, can be used to highlight the importance of every word that follows it. Think of it as the announcer of the preceding words. However, the use of the colon is only specific to independent clauses as it helps list a couple of things. Funny but true; the colon is that glorified trumpeter leading a royalty charade. The colon enables your reader to pay attention to the next words because you need them to. Just like the following examples:

The new policy on taxation affects the following sectors: transportation, importing and exporting, Agriculture, Banking, etc. 

Do not forget the popular saying about time management: “Make hay while the sun shines.” 

Secondly, the use of a colon also extends to writing formal letters. As every formal letter follows a specific pattern for proper execution, using a colon after your salutation is paramount.

Dear Sir:

Your Excellency:

Thirdly, learn to always use a colon in between titles or subtitles. This way, you help your readers understand what part of the title or subtitle elaborates the other.

Opinion:Biden’s mistake about Trump – CNN

Social Media: Understanding Its Importance In Brand Awareness 

Lastly, the most tricky of all is connecting two independent clauses with a colon. The colon helps your reader understands the emphasis placed on the preceding independent clause, particularly when the preceding clause further explains or sheds more light on the first independent clause. Check out the following example:

Flatten the COVID-19 curve: using your face masks and maintaining social distancing.

The first response team consists of two medical practitioners: both of them were female doctors.

Colon usage

Understanding the Semicolon

Unlike colon that deals majorly with the separation of independent clauses, semicolon helps in separating major sentence elements. This means that a semicolon is used when the major sentence elements are not joined by a conjunction. Note: These sentence elements have to be independent clauses and should be able to convey sensible meanings on their own. See the following examples:

Two-third of the Senate approved the finance bill. Others were against it.

Writers often make the mistake of using a comma in sentences similar to the one above. However, infusing a comma into this sentence would result in a punctuation error called “Comma Splice.” A comma would have been perfect if the major coordinating conjunction was written, like this:

Two-third of the Senate approved the finance bill, but others were against it. 

Also, the use of a semicolon is needed when interlocking two independent causes using a transitional phrase or an adverb. In most cases, we have to use common adverbs like meanwhile, however, or nevertheless, joining these clauses together. On the other hand, transitional phrases like, on the contrary, as a matter of fact, as, after all, joins two independent clauses.

I worked as an intern with the accounting firm across the street; however, I never truly learned much from the firm.

The President rarely attends policing matters; on the other hand, the sheriff is the right office for enforcing the law in some states.

Finally, and of course, the most common use of a semicolon is for separating items in a series. Note: The semicolon is only infused when the items include internal punctuation. Mostly commas.

How to use semicolon

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In Conclusion

Determining if two clauses warrant a colon or semicolon can be confusing and sometimes leads to errors in writing. However, this guide on “where to uses colon and semicolon” would help you write better and sound. Learn and master each area of your writing that requires the use of both punctuation marks. With these, your readers would understand you better.

Scientific Editing

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By David Adewusi

David is a blog writer who likes writing about literature, English grammar, and editing methods. He has also worked as a copy editor and proofreader. He has written excellent blog posts for Scientific Editing.

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