In this article, I will talk about how to use the colon [:] and semicolon [;] correctly in your writing.
A semicolon is used to separate two or more strongly related main clauses that could stand as sentences in their own right.
It was spring; the trees were beginning to blossom.
It is not correct to join sentences like this with a comma. This is a common mistake known as a comma splice.
Semicolons are also used for balancing two pieces of information.
Wendy drives a BMW; Emma drives a Fiat.
They can also be used to join two clauses instead of a conjunction.
I love ice cream because it’s so cool on a hot day.
I love ice cream; it’s so cool on a hot day.
A semicolon should only be used if the sentences it divides make sense in their own right. ‘I love ice cream’ and ‘It’s so cool on a hot day’ can both stand as independent sentences.
If the second part of the sentence adds information but could not stand on its own, a colon should be used instead.
There’s only one flavour of ice cream worth eating: strawberry.
A semicolon can also be used to separate items in a list when phrases are used.
I need to buy some soup, tomato not chicken; milk, semi-skimmed not full fat; doughnuts, strawberry jam; and some bread.
If the list contains only short words, a comma will suffice.
I need soup, milk, doughnuts, and bread.
Are typically used to add information, so the second part explains the second part.
That was easy: the questions were all level two.
In this example though you could also use a full stop or a conjunction.
That was easy. The questions were all at level two.
That was easy because all the questions were all at level two.
Using a comma for the above would result in a comma splice which is wrong.
When using to introduce a list, only use a colon if the introduction makes sense on its own.
Please bring with you: a pencil, ruler, protractor, and eraser.
We also use colons to introduce quotes.
My mum had a favourite saying: ‘If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.’
As with the semicolon, only use the colon if the first part would stand as a sentence on its own. ‘My mum used to say’ doesn’t make sense on its own so a comma would be used.
My mum used to say, ‘If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.’
I hope this helps to clarify the use of each for you.
Have a wonderful day and keep writing!