Punctuation: how do we use colons and semi-colons?

ScottsEnglishScottsEnglish Administrator Posts: 1,137 admin ✭✭✭✭✭✭✭
edited December 2016 in Grammar
A lot of students don't know how to correctly use colons (:) and semi-colons (;). Do you know how to use them? If not, these rules of use will help  B)

In general, a colon is used when a list follows a statement. For example, "The three languages you need to learn for web programming are: HTML, CSS, and JavaScript."  It can also be used to show an explanation is following: an explanation of what came before.

A semi-colon is often used to replace a coordinating conjunction (and, but, for, nor, or, yet, so) in a sentence. "The man didn't see the car coming; now he will be off work for two weeks." In this example, we could also write the sentence with so, using a comma: "The man didn't see the car coming, so now he will be off work for two weeks."

Semi-colons are also used with adverbial conjunctions to finish the first clause before the conjunction:


As a result

As a consequence









On the other hand



In addition




The children worked hard on the painted mural; however, the rain washed the paint away.

The rise in interest rates has had a predictable effect on the economy; as a consequence bankers are encouraging investors to save.

The experiment showed that some human parasites can help control asthma; conversely, few people want to try the treatment.

One final use of semicolons is in combination with a colon to make a long list with clauses.

For example, "I have never seen such blatant political scandals: one the one hand, a candidate who admits to buying votes; on the other hand, a candidate who has a criminal record."


(notice the colon, because a list of sentences will follow)

This is a simple cake with only four ingredients: one quarter each of butter, sugar, flour and eggs.

Military forces have been sent to quell the uprising; at the moment everyone involved is safe.

Literature does not seem to be vital in a knowledge economy; nevertheless, many employers target graduates with liberal arts degrees.

French colonialism rivaled the extent of the British Empire: the French had colonies in the New World; in Africa and in Southeast Asia; not to mention European nations which adopted French language and customs.

Be sure to enroll here at Scott's English PLUS for lots more punctuation practice!

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