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Reading Writing Center | Microlab 10


Microlab 10 | Semicolons and Colons

The semicolon and colon allow writers to express relationships between ideas. Although they are used less often than other punctuation marks, the semicolon and colon give new ways to create variety in how you express your ideas.

This microlab will help you:

  • - recognize semicolon and colon errors
  • - repair semicolon and colon errors
  • - use semicolons and colons correctly in your own writing

Review of Semicolons and Colons

Like traffic signs, semicolons and colons tell where to stop, how to go on, and what relationships to expect.

The semicolon stops the reader’s progress after one complete statement (or independent clause) and signals the appearance of a second independent clause that is closely related in content or meaning.

I wanted rain; I got a flood.  (Independent clause; independent clause.)

Here are some examples of related independent clauses joined correctly with a semicolon:

Correct: Repairing the old car would be expensive; buying a new car would cost far more.
Correct: Hitchhiking is illegal in our town; nevertheless, my friends often thumb rides.

A colon marks a stop after an independent clause to introduce a following list, quotation, example, or explanation.

Correct:	Your bill includes charges for the three items:  gas, oil, and a battery.
Correct: The actress said only two words:  “I quit.”
Correct: She wanted to buy him something useful:  a calculator or a new watch.
Correct: Marion knew why she felt so happy:  her final exams were almost over.

Notice that the colon always follows a complete sentence.

THE SEMICOLON

I. A semicolon is used only between closely related independent clauses (each containing both a subject and a verb). Do not use a semicolon between a phrase and a complete sentence, only between two complete sentences.

Incorrect: Bears in the woods; therefore, we stayed in a motel instead of a tent.
Correct: Bears prowled the woods; therefore, we stayed in a motel instead of a tent.
Incorrect: The bears turned out to be cows; unfortunately, the motel bill for $92.
Correct: The bears turned out to be cows; unfortunately, the motel bill was real.

II. Notice that a transitional word or phrase (like “consequently,” “however,” or “in fact”) is often used to make a meaningful connection between two clauses joined by a semicolon.

KEY POINTS TO REMEMBER:

*A semicolon cannot always replace a period. The distinction of a period is greater than that of a semicolon. use a semicolon to separate independent clauses if

  1. 1. The two clauses are closely related in content.
  2. 2. You can substitute a period for the semicolon

*A semicolon is never used to separate a sentence and a phrase

*If a transitional word or phrase is used, it belongs in the clause following the semicolon

THE COLON

III. Use a colon after a complete sentence to introduce an example or explanation in the form of a word, phrase, or clause.

Correct: The teacher insisted on one standard:  honesty.
Correct: Two qualities make Oregon an ideal vacation spot:  fresh air and lush forests.
Correct: The reason for his popularity is obvious:  he enjoys people.

IV. Use a colon to introduce a quotation that follows a complete sentence.

Correct: Every teacher told us the same thing:  “What you learn is more important than your grade.” 

V. Use a colon to introduce a list that follows a complete sentence.

Correct: Vera’s drawer contained odds and ends:  a deck of cards, a pair of pliers, books of matches, and two balls of string.

Trouble Spots

VI. A colon should not be used to separate a verb from its object.

Incorrect: They collected:  pottery, sewing materials, and hats.
Correct: They collected pottery, sewing materials, and hats.

VII. In the same way, a colon should not separate a preposition from its object.

Incorrect: Most of the guests came from:  Japan, China, and India.
Correct: Most of the guests came from Japan, China, and India.

VIII. Colons are also used to separate the hour from the minutes in time designations.

Correct: He left work at 6:20 p.m.

IX. Finally, use a colon after the greeting in a formal business letter.

Correct:	Dear Sir:
		Dear Ms. Jensen:

KEY POINTS TO REMEMBER:

  • - Use a colon after a complete sentence to introduce a list, quotation, example, or explanation.
  • - Do not use a colon to separate a verb or preposition from its object.
  • - Use a colon to separate the hour from the minutes in time designations and after the greeting in a business letter.