PUTTING SEMICOLONS AND COLONS IN THEIR PLACE
By: Penny, EzineArticles Managing Editor
By: Penny, EzineArticles Managing Editor
Ever get that feeling when you’re writing that a sentence needs just a little something extra to make it cohesive and complete? You know it needs some kind of punctuation to bring home the point, but you can’t decide between a comma, a semicolon, a colon or some other punctuation mark to get the job done.
Well, if you have, you’re not alone. It happens all the time.
To clear the air of mystery around these punctuation marks and decide how and where they fit, we put together this quick guide to putting semicolons and colons in their place.
Interestingly enough, colons and semicolons were originally introduced as a way to represent spots to add pauses in speech that were a little longer than a comma and a little shorter than a period. Now they’ve each taken on their own meaning.
· Basics of Semicolons
Semicolons are commonly used in two ways. They either separate items in a list or they separate two independent clauses in the same sentence.
First, let’s look at how they appear as part of a list:
o When individual elements of a list have commas, separate the items in the list with semicolons instead of commas. This will commonly appear when you’re listing dates or cities.
Incorrect: Over the past 30 years, the three cities that have received the most rainfall in the United States are Mobile, Alabama, Pensacola, Florida and New Orleans, Louisiana.
Correct: Over the past 30 years, the three cities that have received the most rainfall in the United States are Mobile, Alabama; Pensacola, Florida and New Orleans, Louisiana.
Also, use semicolons to separate independent clauses in these three circumstances:
2. When there’s no conjunction (ex. and, but, or) separating the clauses. If you use a conjunction, a comma will do the job. If not, use a semicolon.
Incorrect: Coffee and tea are stimulants, they’re both options to wake us up when we’re tired.
Correct: Coffee and tea are stimulants; they’re both options to wake us up when we’re tired.
3. When the clauses themselves have commas, like as part of a list. Adding an additional comma into a compound sentence that has a series of commas can get confusing. Separate the clauses with a semicolon instead to make the compound sentence clear.
Incorrect: You should watch the weather so you can dress appropriately while camping, and make sure you bring a sleeping bag, lantern and bug spray with you.
Correct: You should watch the weather so you can dress appropriately while camping; and make sure you bring a sleeping bag, lantern and bug spray with you.
4. When the clauses are separated by a parenthetical expression, like a conjunctive adverb (ex. however, meanwhile, consequently, etc.).
Incorrect: Alexander was a Trojan, Achilles, on the other hand, was an Achaean.
Correct: Alexander was a Trojan; Achilles, on the other hand, was an Achaean.
· Basics of Colons
Colons also have a variety of uses. They include starting lists, starting quotations and a variety of special cases.
0. Colons Starting Lists
Use a colon before a list when the list is preceded by a complete independent clause. Don’t use a colon to separate a preposition from its objects or a verb from its compliments. This is a relatively common mistake.
Incorrect: For the recipe, you will need: flour, baking soda, baking powder, butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla extract. (The colon separates the verb need from its components.)
Correct: First, go to the grocery store to acquire all the ingredients: flour, baking soda, baking powder, butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla extract.
1. Colons Starting Quotations
Use colons to introduce formal or lengthy quotations. They can also be used when a quotation isn’t preceded by a “he said/she said” clause.
Correct: Dickens wrote: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
Correct: Derek flipped the switch on the loudspeaker: “I have a few announcements to make.”
2. Colons in Special Cases
There are numerous ways that colons are used with special meanings. Think about:
§ Measurements of time (ex. 4:15pm, 7:45am, etc.)
§ Subtitles (ex. One Good Turn: A Natural History of the Screwdriver and the Screw, 2 Minute Approval Tips: Deliver On The Article Title, etc.)
§ Salutations In Business Letters (ex. Dear Sir: or Dear Ms Smith:)
§ Labels On Important Ideas (ex. Notice: or Important:)
These are just the basics. We have plenty more advanced punctuation tips to cover, but we’ll save that for a future post or the comments section below. Any questions?
Posted by Penny, Managing Editor on June 8, 2011