When and How to Use Semicolons and Colons – Basic, Meaning & Rules


The use of semicolons and colons are described along with basic rules, meaning, usage, a lot of examples, and easy explanations to clear the basic concept.

As basic as a period stacked on top of another, Semicolons are not meant to be used as a replacement for commas. Whatever you think of it, don’t get your hopes up. But don’t let the sly wink of the eye deter you, either.

In this post, we will be explaining when to use and how to use semicolons and colons marks properly to avoid mistakes.

Let’s take a look at them one by one.

What are Semicolons and Colons?

Semicolons and colons are very frequently used punctuation marks in the English language but are often misused due to lack of understanding.

Let’s learn the use of,

  • Semicolons
  • Colons

When and How to Use a Colon?

Colons (:) can be used primarily in five situations during our writing in English.

  • Firstly, you can use them at the end of any independent clause, provided that it is followed by a list. Like when we say that “Rockets can be built in five different ways”, it gives us an independent clause and also the sense that a list of those five ways is about to come. And to introduce the list, a colon is used.
  • If you have a formal sentence or a quotation to write, you can use a colon much like we often use a comma. He told me: “Never disrespect your teachers and parents.”
  • Sometimes we say something but then realize some further explanation is required for the audience to understand better. In this scenario, you can use a colon between the first and the second clause. But make sure you capitalize the first letter of both clauses. For example, “The teacher was right to punish you: You were disturbing the whole class”.
  • When you are writing a formal business letter, it’s always advisable to use a colon rather than a comma in the salutation part.
  • Every time you write time, you need to use a colon. For example, “It’s 8:45 A.M”.

When and How to Use a Semicolon?

A semicolon (;) can be used in the following three scenarios in the English language.

If you have two independent clauses joined by a conjunction, you can get a chance to use a semicolon. But there are a few conditions for that.

  • The clauses need to be closely related, and the second should be a kind of explanatory extension of the first clause.
  • In such a scenario, the second clause will often be preceded by a conjunctive adverb like, however, moreover, therefore, etc.
  • The semicolon will sit before the adverb.

For example,

  • I am going to the club; however, I’ll return by ten.

Sometimes the use of commas repeatedly for every item on the list makes the entire thing very confusing. In that case, you can avoid confusion by using a semicolon.

Let’s look at one example:

  • Next year, they are planning to travel to European countries like France; Switzerland, Germany, Belgium; Italy, and more.

Lastly, when two independent clauses consist of several commas, you can replace them with semicolons.

Let’s look at one example:

  • Don’t forget to pack all the essentials like warm clothes, leather garments, a book for the flight; also, keep a tab on the tickets, boarding passes, and all.

How Do You Use a Semicolon Correctly?

Semicolons do not serve as a replacement for commas, as they are as basic as a period stacked on top of another.

Be wary of your hopes, regardless of what you might think, and don’t be put off by the sly wink of the eye.

You cannot replace commas with semicolons. We think they’re a good compromise: stronger than a comma, but not quite as divisive as a period. We hope you’re taking notes on how to use a semicolon correctly.

Is it right to use a Capital Letter after a Semicolon? 

In most cases, no you cannot use a capital letter after a semicolon. Nowadays, a semicolon should be used only when the word is a proper noun or acronym, which is not the case in modern English.

Uses of Colons

To emphasize a point, present a dialogue, open a list, or delineate text, a colon is used.

  • A proper noun or the first word of a complete sentence should be capitalized after the colon.
  • After writing the speaker’s name, follow by a colon and the statement they are making.
  • Capitalize the primary word after the colon only if it could be an appropriate thing or the beginning of a total sentence.
  • Utilize a colon in titles that express two parallel thoughts. The words on either side of the colon ought to be able to stand on their own.

Use of Colons and Semicolons with Examples

Both colons and semicolons can be used to indicate “a list” in case of an independent clause. Colons can be specifically used for quotes as well.

Let’s look at a few examples:

  • You just have two choices at this moment: move on and live or stay back and suffer.
  • We knew we could beat them in their own game: Team India.
  • He wanted to visit three cities in India: Delhi, Benaras, and Kolkata.
  • Here are the three words beginning with M: Mango, Match, and Money.
  • This place has everything I need: two big rooms, one game room, and a pool.

When you have a lot of info to write in a sentence but don’t want to use too many commas, semicolons can help.

  • Back in the days when I traveled through India, I have visited Delhi, Bombay, Madras; Kolkata, Chennai; and Bangalore.
  • Can you please give a good collection of books, ranging from authors like Shakespeare, Checkov, Nora Roberts, Alice Munroe; Milan Kundera, Albert Camus; Franz Kafka; and R.L Stevenson?
  • Here, you get every kind of food you like, ranging from Indian, Chinese, Continental; Thai; Japanese, famous French deserts; Belgium Chocolate Ice-cream.

Two Semicolons use to Replace the Conjunction

Two independent clauses can be linked by more than a semicolon.  You can also use conjunctions like that’s yours, but, and or. The semicolon and conjunction shouldn’t be used together. As a result, you use a semicolon instead of the conjunction like and, but, and or as you don’t need both. 

Here is a quick tip, if you used a comma and an and to link two related ideas. You can use conjunction in the top part of the sentence when you use semicolons. For a comma splice to be avoided, add something after the comma.

You can either use the right conjunction or the period after the comma to create the semicolon. This means that semicolons can demonstrate contrast as well, because they can link independent clauses that would otherwise be connected by a conjunction or a period. Here we use the conjunction “but” instead of “and,” though the rule is the same. 

Semicolon Uses in Conjunctive Adverbs

A semicolon should be used when an adverb joins two independent clauses.  Besides, nevertheless, however, otherwise, then, finally, similarly, and consequently are some common conjunctive adverbs. 

Because these words sometimes appear elsewhere in a sentence, the semicolon rule only applies when it helps the conjunctive adverb join two independent clauses.  Conjunctive adverbs follow a similar rule to conjunctions. Both ideas must be regarded as independent clauses that can stand alone as sentences. Afterwards, your semicolon looks fine to me grammatically.

Use of Semicolons in Independent Clause

Two closely related independent clauses can be joined with a semicolon. A complete sentence should be the group of words preceding the semicolon, and the complete sentence should follow the semicolon, and there should be a logical connection between the sentences.

There is no capitalization after the semicolon.  As you can see, they are both constructed by gluing together two grammatically correct sentences. 

  • I just want you to know: I am always there no matter what.
  • You can take back your pen: I am done with my test.
  • You should always keep in mind: think before you trust someone blindly.
  • She asked me if I am going to the mall: I was too astonished to respond.
  • I love this town: It reminds me of my childhood.
  • The world still has good people in it: we just need to keep on believing in good.

There are actually six total sentences up there, and thanks to the semicolon, only two capitalized words.  Therefore, a comma cannot be substituted for a semicolon. As you can see, the comma splice is painful and comma splices result in commas, not semicolons.

  • I think he is going bald; his hair is falling off every day.
  • It’s time for you to stop eating so much; I think you should put yourself on a diet.
  • Titanic is one of the most famous movies in the 90s; it is actually my all-time favorite.
  • I had a heavy breakfast; I think I am feeling hungry again.
  • She knew Karate; she easily defeated the boys who were bugging her.
  • I know you don’t like green vegetables; it’s good for your immunity.
  • She wants a car; however, he wanted to go to Europe for vacation.

Conclusion

Here are the rules of using colons and semicolons in the English language, along with their suitable examples. I believe, after studying these rules, you will be able to use these punctuation marks more efficiently without committing any mistakes.

Always remember that punctuations help us express our speech better. It makes our writing more appropriate and helps the reader understand our tone. Since they cannot hear our voice, it’s the punctuations that make the whole tone understandable.

As a result, a semicolon links up two related ideas by narrowing the gap between concepts in two separate sentences or by replacing a conjunction between two concepts.  That goes for contrast, too: just because two ideas are opposed or contradictory does not mean they aren’t closely related enough to deserve a semicolon.

Next time, whenever you read a paragraph, refer back to these rules, and it will help you understand the rules better.

For any queries, mention them in the comments below.

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