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Colon and Semicolon Punctuation in Writing


The proper use of the colon and semicolon as punctuation in written works.

The colon is used:

a)   To introduce a list.

You will have to order several accessory components: chargers, cases, cords, cables, and speakers.   

b)    To introduce an extract or quotation that follows an introductory sentence. 

As Author, Erica Jong, stated: “If you don’t risk anything, you risk even more.”  

c)    In the salutation of a formal business letter.

            Dear Sir:                 Dear Madam:  

d)   Between figures denoting hours and minutes, with exception to the 24-hour clock system.

                           1820 hrs.       

e)   To precede an extended explanation.

There are two conditions that must exist before we can experience true freedom: first, each person must be entitled to act independently of the other; second, each must agree not cross those parameters that have been set in place as protection from harm.    

f)     To precede a restatement of an idea.

The play was poorly performed: it lacked both experience and characterization from the actors.        


While the comma is frequently used, the following are the general accepted rules for the use of the semicolon.

a)   To separate two independent thoughts in a sentence that otherwise would have been separated by using a conjunction such as and or but. 

It was the first of April; all the spring lines were on display.

  * A comma separating these thoughts would not provide a distinct enough pause.

b)   To precede the words “for example,” “for instance,” “as in,” etc. in sentences. 

The course will include role-playing which demonstrates the practical application for anger management skills learned; for example, a boss employee conflict, a spousal argument, and a situation of a misbehaved child with a parent.  

c)    To separate items in a long list, especially when commas have already been used.

      Please place the following orders with the restaurant for our breakfast meeting: 
two boiled eggs, sausages, toast and coffee; eggs benedict with a side order of hash browns, tea and orange juice; and two pancakes with one egg cooked over easy and coffee.

    * First, a colon is used to indicate "the following orders," then the semicolons are used within the list itself.

Back to Punctuation Page

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