Colons and Semicolons
You can only really understand how to use colons and semicolons once you know how to use full stops and commas properly, so read that page first!
You will remember from the full stops and commas page that when we want have two clauses next to one another the only way to punctuate them properly is to either join them together using a conjunction or a connective … or to separate them out completely using a full stop. For example:
‘She ran out into the rain. He watched her go heartbrokenly.’ … or …
‘She ran out into the rain and he watched her go heartbrokenly.’ … or …
‘She ran out into the rain while he watched her go heartbrokenly.’ are all grammatically fine.
In fact, that was an over-simplification. Instead of using a full stop you can, if the sentences are closely related, use a colon which indicates to the reader that these two ideas are separate but are still closely linked. If we imagine that a full stop is like a 100% pause then a colon might be like a 75% pause while a semicolon might be a 50% pause. So, for example, it would also be acceptable to write:
‘She ran out into the rain: he watched her go heartbrokenly.’
‘She ran out into the rain; he watched her go heartbrokenly.’
In addition, there are some other simple rules for when you should use colons and semicolons.
Colons can be used in the following situations:
1. to start a list
to introduce a definition or explanation, e.g. ‘There is
one big problem facing the entire planet right now: global warming.’ or ‘
3. when introducing very long quotations that are not embedded into your sentences
Semicolons can be used in the following situations:
1. in lists where there items are really long or already have commas or conjunctions in them, for example: ‘For lunch today I ate a cheeseburger with lots of ketchup and fries; an ice cream soda from Swensons; a muffin with multi-colour chocolate chips and a Supreme pizza from Pizza Hut.