The Grammar Guru – Semicolons

how to use semi-colons

When is a colon not a colon? When it’s a semicolon! Here’s how to use both wisely

Let’s start with semicolons. A semicolon is a comma with a full stop above it. When is it appropriate to use one, and why?

Semicolons made simple

A semicolon is used when you’d like to indicate a pause in a sentence. It’s stronger than a comma, and less final than a full stop.

A semicolon –

*separates two independent clauses of the same sentence, which are not joined by a conjunction. Using a semicolon indicates that both parts of the sentence are equally important. Before punctuating with a semicolon, check that both parts of the sentence could be a separate sentence in its own right, and are related too closely to be separate sentences.

*separates lists of information which already include commas: locations, names, dates, and descriptions. The semicolon helps break up lists into more easily readable text.

*is useful if the clauses are already punctuated with commas, or if the clauses are lengthy.


When To Use A Colon

A colon –

*looks like two full stops, one on top of the other

* is used to provide a pause between two main clauses, where the second clause explains or follows on from the first, before introducing related information

* can be used to introduce a list of items, or before an explanation or conclusion. The second part of the statement is emphasised, and clearly follows on from the first. The two parts of the sentence are not equal.

*can be used as a symbol for ‘as follows’. It often leads on to a quotation, a list, direct speech, or a sequence of separate points. It’s often used when a statement follows on from or explains a preceding remark.

*can also be used to contrast two opposing statements in the same sentence.


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