Colon: "Why are you crying?" Semicolon: "Nobody understands me."

Colons and semicolons

People can be very creative with their punctuation, whether they use it too much, not enough or in new and wonderful ways. Colons and semicolons often bear the brunt of this.

How to use them

Even when you think you’ve got the hang of them, you’ll probably find someone who disagrees. Let’s get down to the basics.

The semicolon is:

  • stronger than a comma, less final than a full-stop
  • ideal for linking closely related independent clauses and varying pace in writing
  • used in a list to separate items that have commas.

On the other hand, the colon is:

  • an introduction to related information, such as a list
  • used to add a second statement that follows on from the first, like an idea
  • a way to introduce a quote.

There’s plenty of guidance roaming free on the internet if you want some concrete examples. Here are a few to try:

Love ’em or hate ’em?

Back in 2008, it seemed the semicolon’s days were numbered in France according to the Guardian. Lots of writers came out in support of the hapless mark, including Anne Enright:

“The semi-colon is useful when you need a sentence to shift or surprise; to be modified or amended; it allows a generosity, lyricism and ambiguity to creep into the sentence structure.”

Semicolon! Or should it be colon?

If, after all this, you think you ‘get it’, watch the following video. To the end. (Unless you want to leave utterly confused.)

Do you love colons and semicolons, or are they the bane of your life? Do you have any examples of where they’ve been used either brilliantly or awfully?

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